Let's start with a short trip I made over the weekend to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, one of the magical places in Southern California. If you haven't been there, high in the hills above the Rose Bowl, you owe it to yourself to discover the college's main building - an iconic example of late-Modernism by architect Craig Ellwood - set amidst the mellow, rolling landscape.
The selection of architectural black & white photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto - an Art Center graduate - is presented here in a highly unusual installation designed by the artist especially for this occasion. If you enter the gallery through the main door, you will see a row of narrow partitions, temporarily erected, with nothing displayed on them. I thought it was a little bit pretentious, somewhat melodramatic. It's only when you go to the back of the gallery and turn around, that you find large images of famous 20th-Century buildings, "shot purposefully out-of-focus and from odd angles".
I prefer Sugimoto's more traditional, small-scale photographs, which are included in this exhibit as well. Here is where the famous aesthetic minimalism of his images, with their palpable sense of quietness, creates a surprising, dramatic effect.
The other exhibition I want to talk about couldn't be more different. At the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills there is an explosive show of paintings by British artist Howard Hodgkin, his first in L.A. since 1985. I was familiar with his small and medium-sized canvases, with their trademark exaggerated brush strokes. But this was the first time I saw his large paintings, flooded with color, exploding from the canvas onto the frame and outward into the gallery space. There is a sense of liberation in these new monumental paintings, as if Hodgkin has found, at last, the right scale for his art. (His smaller paintings, by comparison, look jewel-like, and for me, a little too precious.)
After almost five decades of art making, 71 year-old Hodgkin is absolutely at the top of his game. Bristling with young energy and seducing the viewer with the most sensual palette this side of heaven, his large paintings drench the austere gallery space with a celebration of color and movement.
In spite of their abstract nature, the new works by Howard Hodgkin evoke, for those who know their Art History, the tradition of European Romantic landscape painting. And for those who don't, seeing his paintings conveys the sensation of being confronted by a glorious rainbow.
I have respect for any artist who, fifty years into a career, is still motivated to wake up in the morning and go to the studio to mess around with paint. It gives me special pleasure to watch Howard Hodgkin's talent continue to push him forward, preventing his art from becoming stale - the common fate of so many of his contemporaries.