British, German and Japanese Art Come to LA, Edward Goes to China

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What a difference a week makes... seven times 24 little hours... Santa Ana winds and firestorms once more wrestled to the ground our cherished illusions of our idyllic life in Southern California. No doubt, some day, this recurring calamity will become the subject for a great work of art. To my knowledge, it hasn't happened yet.

Meanwhile, in the middle of a busy season of gallery openings, two exhibitions grabbed my attention; one by British painter Tony Bevan, at the L.A. Louver Gallery, another by German painter Anton Henning, at the Christopher Grimes. Both artists have a good track record of exhibiting here in L.A. -– it's the sixth show for Bevan and the third for Henning.

There are two recurring images in Tony Bevan's art: a gigantic head or face, tilted at an impossible angle and painted in an intentionally crude, almost cartoon-ish manner; the other is an image of an imposing architectural construction, threatened by invisible forces. The palpable danger, captured in many of his compositions, is enhanced by the unusual, unsettling use of color leading to either very dramatic, or, when he wants it, a very lyrical effect.

Anton Henning is a trickster, a joker with an endless variety of surprises up his sleeve. His paintings are all over the map, and I mean it as a compliment. Here, he evokes the spirit of a Picasso cubist still life; there, he creates a portrait in the style of a Renaissance painter. But why stop there? When his spirits are especially high, he goes abstract, and his brush starts dancing around the canvas in one sweeping loop after another. But the party is not over yet. As is customary for Henning's installations, the gallery walls are painted in bands of color that not only compliment the paintings, but actively interact with them. And that's not the end of the story; all the paintings are ‘dressed up' in elaborate frames of the artist's own design, which incorporate special lighting devices.

There is a lot of excitement in the city in connection with MOCA's high-profile exhibition by Takashi Murakami, whose art is informed and inspired by the unique Japanese culture of animation. Some people compare this artist with Andy Warhol, but I believe that, so far, Andy has nothing to worry about.

In a few weeks I'll review Murakami's art, but now I'm packing my suitcases to fly to China, which will be my first trip to Asia. I'm going to Beijing for a first-hand experience of the rapidly expanding contemporary art scene there, which in the last few years has taken the whole world by surprise.

Works by some Chinese artists have been sold at auction at record-high prices, often exceeding $1 million. According to some sources, the art galleries in Beijing are multiplying so fast, they already surpass the number of galleries in New York's famous Chelsea neighborhood.

Preparing for the trip, I discovered that quite a few Los Angeles galleries are exhibiting contemporary Chinese art. I also talked to a lot of people who advised me on what I have to see, and whom I have to meet. All that feels rather overwhelming, but, as I like to say in my art collecting seminars, "If you want to learn about yourself through art, be willing to step out of your comfort zone." I guess now it's time for me to put my money where my big mouth is.

Breakout: Chinese Art outside China

Tony Bevan
October 20 - November 24
L.A. Louver Gallery
45 North Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Anton Henning: "Welcome, delicious ideas!"
October 20 – November 24
Christopher Grimes Gallery
916 Colorado Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

"© Murakami" October 29, 2007 – February 11, 2008
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 North Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Banner image: Three paintings by artist Tony Bevan, "Head and Neck," 2007, acrylic & charcoal on canvas