Memorial Day is many things for many people. More often than not, we get in our cars to see new places, to meet old friends or just to get away. No such distractions for me this time. Had to spend a few days at home nursing a nasty cold. The good thing is that I could catch up on a lot of reading. A good friend of mine, knowing my admiration for Diane Arbus, whose splendid exhibition at LACMA closed over the weekend, loaned me an excellent biography of her by Patricia Bosworth. It was published in 1984, roughly a decade after the artist's suicide in 1971. If you've ever been mesmerized by unsettling black and white images by Diane Arbus, who never met a freak she didn't like, you absolutely must read this book. Her crying babies do not elicit our sympathy; quiet and prim twins unnervingly stare at you as if implicating you into their family secrets.
The book tells the story of a poor rich girl inflicted with insecurities and plagued with depression while tenaciously pursuing documentary photography, which ultimately earned her a well deserved reputation as one of the most original artists of our time. When, in 1967, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized the seminal exhibition "New Documents" where Arbus' portraits of midgets, transvestites and nudists attracted huge crowds, the New York Times critic described her images as, "bizarre" and in some cases " in bad taste." So much for critics' opinions. What the hell do they know!
Meanwhile in Washington the much criticized World War II Memorial was officially open to honor the veterans with, unfortunately, a less than first-rate public artwork - short on inspiration, long on banalities. Makes you worry about the upcoming memorial for the World Trade Center in New York.
And talking about memories - hundreds of contemporary artworks disappeared in a huge fire in London last week. Stored in a specialized art warehouse in East London, there were collections belonging to museums and private individuals, including Charles Saatchi, known for launching the careers of many young British artists, such as Damien Hurst, Tracy Emin and Chris Ofili, many of whose works were lost in the fire.
The Art Newspaper, in its May issue, reports on the status of the much delayed construction of the new exit for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, known here in L.A. for his MOCA building on Grand Avenue. Much needed to alleviate the Uffizi's notorious congestion, the work on the new exit was halted when authorities were alerted about important archaeological discoveries on the site. More important is that another Uffizi proposal was given the green light by the Italian government whose Prime Minister Berlusconi is attempting to create his own legacy of Grand Projects. Since World War II, there have been talks about increasing available display space for art in this 16th century building, designed by Giorgio Vasari. Currently, collections are displayed only on the second floor, where no more than 4500 visitors are allowed per day. After dragging their feet for what seems like an eternity, authorities finally removed the State Archive of Florence from the first floor of the Uffizi building, so by 2006 the gallery will occupy both floors, thus doubling its space, reducing endless waiting lines and displaying, for the first time, 800 paintings kept in storage for centuries.
The Art Newspaper also reports on the Montreal Festival of Film on Art, where I found a delicious mentioning of the film, The Lost Secret of Catherine The Great, "an enquiry into the fate of the Czarina's notorious collection of erotica," kept in the rooms of her palace. During the Stalin era the rooms were ordered shut so as not to offend the public. Today, the whereabouts of this collection is unknown, since the Nazi's who occupied the palace during World War II dismantled it and, along with the famous Amber Room, shipped it out to a secret location.