British Art at the Huntington;

Hosted by

One should be grateful for a splendid example of British paintings from American collections that are on view now at the Huntington Library in San Marino. Just a chance to stand in front of the majestic portrait of "Queen Henrietta Maria" by Anthony van Dyck is enough to justify a trip to the leafy suburbs of Pasadena. The result would be even more dramatic if this and other large aristocratic full length portraits were displayed in less crammed quarters, so we could survey it from a proper distance. As it is, the portraits are robbed of some of their studied grandeur and aloofness. Though there are some pay offs, as is the case with the ever popular "The Blue Boy" by Gainsborough and "Pinkie" by Thomas Lawrence. The canvasses were moved from its permanent display at the Museum-s Main Gallery, so that, for the first time, they can be examined at close range. I have to admit that in spite of being overexposed through millions of reproductions, some on boxes of chocolate, these two portraits are still capable of seduction. Their virtuoso brushwork and mellifluous colors work their magic and are capable of turning a critic into a love stricken fool. The exhibition-s transition into 19th, and especially 20th century, art is rather abrupt and sketchy. An excellent Nude by Lucien Freud is all I needed to ignore the rest of the uneven presentation of British art in the 20th century. A showy David Hockney Still Life demonstrates this Angelino at his most theatrical and, alas, his least introspective, which has been characteristic of his art since the late 80s.

At LACMA, there is a chance to peek at things to come. Just to try new ideas, its permanent collection of 17th to 19th century art is reinstalled for a few months on the ground level of the Hammer Building. Its always enjoyable to see familiar works shuffled and mixed, so they look new and fresh.

Museum curators experimented with unusually bold colors for the walls of the galleries: red, blue, yellow, green. More significantly, a successful effort was made to mix examples of painting, sculpture, furniture, tapestry, drawing, and decorative art in one space, instead of traditionally separating them by medium. It is important to notice though, that there is nothing new about such interpretive presentation, which has been utilized by many museums for decades. LACMA likes to call it a new trend. That-s OK with me, if it makes them happy.

A recently acquired and newly restored Pieta, an early 18th century Spanish sculpture, is especially well displayed in a darkened gallery with the help of smart lighting. Almost life size and made from papier-mach- and molded linen, soaked in glue to make it rigid, the sculpture is purposefully not heavy so it could be easily used during religious procession. This is the only known example of such an artwork anywhere in the United States. A congratulation to LACMA for adding this rare object to its collection.

And, at the end, a few words about the Julian Schnabel exhibition "Big Girl Paintings" at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. Not big, but gigantic, his canvasses, with their fat ornate frames are meant to make a viewer jumpy, as if being poked in the eye. Inspired by some amateur portraits rescued from a thrift store, these Big Girls are just plain ugly creatures, without the innocence of their thrift store cousins. With two modestly successful art house movies to his credit, Julian Schnabel will be well advised to quit his day time job and to embrace Hollywood full time.