Cave Painting at the Santa Monica Museum of Art

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For quite some time the Santa Monica Museum of Art has been keeping visitors intrigued, sometimes mystified, on occasion, even bored with its eclectic, or, if you prefer, experimental exhibition program.- The museum is clearly trying to create its own niche and identity.-

The current exhibition of three artists titled "Cavepainting" is an experiment of entrusting curatorial responsibilities to the artists themselves.- L.A. based Laura Owens, along with London based Peter Doig and Chris Ofili, were asked to collaborate on this show.- Each artist made three large new paintings and the final installation was also determined by the artists themselves.

I like the idea, but the result is not very convincing.- The fact that all three painters are represented by the same NY gallery and are friendly toward each other doesn't overcome the fact that their canvases have very little in common besides their large scale.- Vaguely romantic, loosely painted landscapes by Laura Owens and Peter Doig demonstrate artistic confidence but failed to persuade me to spend more than a few polite minutes in front of them.- You know that numbing feeling during social chit-chat when you can not wait to excuse yourself.

The third artist, Chris Ofili, is the one whose improbably decorative canvases jump at you and wrestle you to the ground.- Almost against your will, his paintings make you explore their jewel like surface formed with thousands of raised drops of paint sprinkled with glitter. Instead of hanging on the wall, his canvases lean against it, resting on his signature balls of elephant dung, encrusted in paint and glitter ..- Undoubtedly you remember the storm raised by Rudy Giuliani, in his pre-heroic period, who was offended by Ofili's painting of the Madonna decorated with his customary balls of dung.- The exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum called "Sensation" brought tremendous attention to this British artist.- I have seen his art on three different occasions, in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at MOCA here in LA, and now here in Santa Monica.- And I have to say this guy has what it takes to become a real thing, not merely a flash in the pan; A strong sense of composition, bright and at the same time subdued colors, an overall exuberance tempered by surprisingly clear vision and discipline.- In my book, any exhibition that allows the pleasure of losing oneself in front of even a few artworks is a good exhibition.

But I hope that this experiment of asking artists to accomplish what curators are trained, paid, and entrusted to do will not be expanded. It sounds good on paper, but less so in actual space of museum galleries.- It is no surprise that reading the exhibition catalog provides insights into the artists good intention to create a dialogue, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Reading the correspondence between the artists, I wanted to jump into the fray.- Seeing the actual exhibition left me indifferent.- Its title, "Cavepainting," alludes to the isolation of artists in their caves, their studios.- Fancy, but vague.- Could it be that these artists/curators are battling the unnecessary war of trying to convince us that the art of painting is still alive and well?- True, for a while it has been out of fashion, but never abandoned or threatened, just overlooked by fashion-oriented museums and curators.- As long as we survive as a species, the art of painting will remain with us - along with music and dance - as a basic way to express our human nature.


Cavepainting: Peter Doig, Chris Ofili & Laura Owens
February 8 -March 31, 2002

Santa Monica Museum of Art
Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Avenue, Building G1
Santa Monica, CA 90404
t 310 586 6488
Tuesday through Saturday: 11am to 6pm
Sunday: 12pm to 5 pm