Happy times with art in 2016

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Art-wise, 2016 was a good year for Los Angeles. LACMA presented the blockbuster exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, which started and ended with a number of Max Beckmann's powerful paintings. It was simply amazing to see so much great work by leading German artists in the aftermath of the disasters of World War I. The country was devastated, broken, but artists like Max Beckmann, Georg Grosz, Otto Dix, and August Sander, with their divergent style, gave sober, unsentimental and graphic depictions of the tumultuous years of the Weimar Republic.

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(L) George Grosz, "The Boss" (Der Regisseur), 1922
Photolithograph on laid paper
(R) Otto Dix, "To Beauty" (An die Schönheit), 1922
Oil and collage on canvas

Twenty-five years ago, the Director of Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center was arrested and put on trial for pandering obscenity. What was his offense? Exhibiting photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989). Nothing of the kind happened this year during the Mapplethorpe double-exhibition at the Getty and LACMA. I've been to many museum openings, but the crowd for Mapplethorpe's shows were the biggest, the noisiest, and definitely the most colorful that I have ever encountered.

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(L) "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium"
Exterior view, exhibition at the Getty Museum
Photo by Tom Mobley
(R) Robert Mapplethorpe, "Lydia Cheng," 1985
Platinum print
Photograph courtesy of the Getty Trust and LACMA

Another rather provocative exhibition took place at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, where Los Angeles-based sculptor/ceramicist Keiko Fukazawa, made gentle –– and sometimes not-so-gentle –– fun of Chairman Mao. Mao's famous (or rather, infamous) 1956 Hundred Flowers Campaign was initially presented as the "policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom…" But after a brief period of liberalization, Chairman Mao abruptly changed course and spearheaded a political crackdown.

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(L) Keiko Fukazawa, "Wong Scent," 2014
Porcelain, glaze
(R) Keiko Fukazawa, "Gone with the Wind," 2014
Porcelain, glaze

The Broad Museum, which opened in downtown last year, proudly celebrated its first year –– and proud it should be. Every time I pass by, I see a long line of visitors waiting for admission. Initially, the annual attendance was expected to be at about 300,000 people, but at the end of its first year, the actual number was three times higher.

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Broad Museum, nighttime view

At the exhibition Electric Earth by Los Angeles-based artist Doug Aitken at the Geffen Contemporary, one is plunged into a dark labyrinth of galleries showing video installations, sculptures, photographs, and architectural works created in the last 20 years by this internationally celebrated artist. Museum curators achieved the near impossible by organizing an exhibition where visitors –– instead of politely walking through –– sit and even lie on the floor, transfixed by a stream of videos on large screens in front and above their heads.

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Doug Aitken, "diamond sea," 1997
"Doug Aitken: Electric Earth"
at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles

Last but not least, let's revisit the great masterpiece by James Ensor (1860 – 1949), "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889" (1888) on permanent display at the Getty Museum. Standing in front of this painting, created more than 100 years ago, one still hears the noise of its huge crowd, including a number of politicians and religious leaders, all of whom Ensor mocks mercilessly. Hidden deep in the crowd is a small figure of Christ himself. The question remains, is Christ the subject of celebration? Or mockery? It's up to us to decide. Ensor is obviously referring to the deep cultural, religious, and ethnic issues dividing his country. Sounds uncomfortably familiar, doesn't it?

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James Ensor, "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889," 1888
Oil on Canvas
Photograph courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

All photos by Edward Goldman unless otherwise indicated.



Benjamin Gottlieb