Good News in L.A.'s Cultural Life

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At trying times like this, let's dwell on good news, shall we? The small but feisty Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach is hosting an ambitious exhibition devoted to South California representational art. First this exhibition was seen in Seattle at the Frye Art Museum and now it comes here, where all of the participating artists have been familiar fixtures on the local art scene. There are 70 artists, mostly painters, and a few sculptors. With rare exception, each is presented with only one work.

The premise of the show is thoroughly old fashioned, and that is that many Southern California artists have never lost the love and passion for representational art, even while prevailing fashion of the time relegated it to the dustbin of history. The exhibition curator Gordon Fuglie has been a champion of representational art for a long time, and his passion somewhat blinds him into including into the exhibition works of less than stellar quality. The exhibition would make a stronger case at proving that representational art is thriving in Southern California if the selection was more critical, and better artists were represented by more than one work. For each good work by such artists as Jim Doolin, John Frame, Alison Saar, Martha Alf, Peter Liashkov, John Sonsini, to name just a few, there are many works by - there is no other way to put it - simply second rate artists. Having said that, I have to acknowledge a jolly good time everybody had at the opening night.

Since World War II the craft of drawing and painting from a live model was neither demanded nor expected from students of major American art schools. The damage to the level of draftsmanship is obvious. For example, in LACMA's current exhibition from Eli Broad's collection, there are two large figurative paintings by Eric Fishel, a big name on the art scene in the 1980's. But what an appalling level of draftmanship and inept handling of the human body his paintings demonstrate. Thank god that LACMA also has an exhibition of Italian Baroque artist Luca Giordano, where one can be reminded of the virtuoso handling of human bodies in all imaginable and unimaginable juxtaposition.

Meanwhile, Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena continues a series of exhibitions from its permanent collection of pop art from the 1960's. A new exhibition titled "Pop Culture!" brings back memories of what today feels like such an innocent time, or at least we want to think of it this way.

And last but not least, good news from the Getty Center. There is a retrospective of works by the renowned Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who is going to celebrate next year his 100th birthday. To say that his art fused Mexico's pre-Columbian past with 20th Century avant-garde is only to begin to describe the impact that his exquisite black and white photographs made on Mexican art. I feel a need to see this deeply meditative exhibition a few more times, not that Manuel Alvarez Bravo's art is inaccessible, but because it has so much to offer. It shouldn't be a surprise that the humanism of his art resonates so much in these trying times.