Happy Memories of Art Adventures in 2017

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2017 was a rather dramatic and bumpy year for most of us. But, if you look at the year through an art prism, all of a sudden, a lot of good energy and memories come back.

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Beverly Pepper,  Drusilla Senior , 2014. Cor-ten steel. Kayne Griffin Corcoran. Image courtesy Kayne Griffin Corcoran.

The mini-retrospective of renowned American artist Beverly Pepper (b. 1922), at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, was a rare combination of brutality and elegance, machismo and grace. Some of the sculptures in the exhibition were made of Carrara marble. Pepper has lived in Italy for most of her adult life, so there is an obvious influence of Roman antiquity in her art: one can see the echo of ancient amphitheaters, obelisks, and temple columns. Her sculptures, with their minimalistic geometric forms, have an unexpectedly theatrical effect that is still with me months after I saw the show. 

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Left: Kerry James Marshall,  Untitled (Club Couple) , 2014. MOCA, promised gift of Mandy and Cliff Einstein. Right: Kerry James Marshall,  Untitled , 2009. Yale University Art Gallery. Images by Edward Goldman.

The travelling exhibition of major American painter Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955) came to MOCA and was jammed with crowds from day one.  I’ve been following his career for more than 30 years, and continue to be intrigued by the complex storytelling in his paintings devoted to various aspects of everyday life in African American communities.

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Installation Photograph, Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 31, 2017–January 7, 2018, © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, photo © Fredrik Nilsen. Image courtesy LACMA.

No one among the great 20th century artists has done more for the union of visual art, music, and theatre, than Marc Chagall. His set designs and costumes for major opera and ballet productions around the world are the subject of the exhibition, Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, still on view at LACMA. Growing up as a Hasidic Jew in pre-revolutionary Russia, Chagall dreamed of being a "singer, dancer, violinist, and poet" (LA Times). But, Gods and Muses had other plans for him, and he turned out to be a hell of an outstanding painter.

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Carlos Almaraz,  Growing City , 1988, Elsa and Maya Almaraz, © Carlos Almaraz Estate, Photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Robert Wedemeyer.

The exhibition by famous Los Angeles Chicano artist Carlos Almaraz at LACMA, Playing with Fire, was bursting with the energy of cars crashing off freeways and Downtown skyscrapers bending and dancing. If you didn’t know that Carlos Almaraz (1941-1989) died almost 30 years ago, you would believe that his images capture the explosive energy of our city as it is today. You would swear the oil paint has still not completely dried on his paintings. 

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Left:  David with the Head of Goliath , about 1609-1610. Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610). Oil on canvas. Ministero de Beni e delle Attivita Culturali e del Turismo-Galleria Borghese.  Image courtesy The Getty. Right: Installation shot:  Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas . The Getty Museum. Image by Edward Goldman.

At the Getty Museum, you can still catch two must-see exhibitions. The first exhibition is composed of three extremely rare 16th century paintings by Caravaggio that are on loan from Galleria Borghese in Rome. Dramatically lit figures emerge from dark backgrounds, like actors basking in the spotlight onstage or characters in a gritty film noir. You must also see Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas, a spectacular exhibition featuring gilded burial masks, nose ornaments, breastplates, headdresses, and more from about 1000 BC to the early 16th century.

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Installation shot,  Taking Shape: Degas as Sculptor . Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena. Photo by Edward Goldman.

Norton Simon museum opened a very special exhibition celebrating the centennial of Degas’ death. Most of us are well familiar with Degas’ pastels and oil paintings with their sensual but unidealized images of dancers and bathers. Now, in this exhibition, we can see these images along with bronze sculptures of the same subjects. Norton Simon has a unique collection of 72 of Degas’ bronze sculptures, and all of them are shown together for the first time in this exhibition. If you haven’t yet fallen head over heels for Edgar Degas’ art, here is your chance.



Benjamin Gottlieb