In Good Times and Bad, We'll Always Have Art

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at090217c.jpgWhatever the state of the economy right now, one thing is clear: major museums in LA are not wanting for attendance. Last Sunday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was pleasantly crowded; not only its temporary exhibitions, but the galleries with permanent collections were full of visitors as well. A lot of young people gathered around four BMW Art Cars exhibited outdoors on the museum plaza. You might want to check out these cars painted by Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein; this small traveling exhibition closes next Tuesday.

at090217d.jpg It was the same at the Getty Center, according to a friend of mine who went there for a lecture. These days, museums are no longer just quiet places for the contemplation of art; now we expect to find good food there, to see a film, to attend a concert or lecture, and shop in the museum stores conveniently located at the museum entrance or strategically placed near blockbuster exhibitions. What I especially like about the crowds in LA museums is the fact that I see people of all ages, from all walks of life – many of them tourists. Art and culture is always good for business; that's why the $50 million recently allocated for the National Endowment for the Arts in the final version of the stimulus package is the right decision, not only as a gesture of support, but as an affirmation of the fact that the arts provide jobs and encourage spending in general. Competing for tourist dollars, major cities around the world use their art and culture credentials to lure visitors. For example, every brochure promoting the city of Berlin boasts the incredible number of museums there – 175 to be precise. I tried to find out from Los Angeles cultural officials how many museums we have here, in our City of Angels, but to my surprise, no one seemed to know.

at090217b.jpg LA is full of hidden cultural treasures waiting to be discovered, and though people in the know might be familiar, for example, with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, I'm pretty sure that the Wende Museum, hidden among nondescript commercial buildings in Culver City, flies below the radar of even the most avid culture hounds. You might remember that I talked about this museum some time ago, so last week I went there for a repeat visit, bringing with me 20 smart people from my art collecting class. Sure enough, none of them had been there before or even heard about this museum.

at090217a.jpg Devoted to the history of the Cold War and stuffed with almost 100,000 artifacts representing the life of our adversaries on the other side of the Berlin Wall, this museum is a treasure trove of paintings and sculptures, soldier's uniforms and flags of Eastern European block countries, and much more, including equipment used to spy on East German citizens. The entrance to the museum is guarded by a 10-foot tall section of the demolished Berlin Wall, bringing to mind the famous plea by President Reagan to his Russian counterpart: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

at090217e.jpg So, even if you are right now down on your luck and cannot afford to travel around the world, stop feeling sorry for yourself – the whole world is here for you to discover. The always adventurous Santa Monica Museum of Art has an exhibition of Ethiopian artist Elias Simé, while the Fowler Museum at UCLA this weekend opens two exhibitions of contemporary African art that promise to be crowd-pleasers.


BMW Art Cars
On view at LACMA's BP Grand Entrance through February 24

Elias Simé: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart
On view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art through April 18

Continental Rifts: Contemporary Time-Based Works of Africa
On view at the UCLA Fowler Museum, February 22 to June 14

Transformations: Recent Contemporary African Acquisitions
On view at the UCLA Fowler Museum, February 22 to June 14

Banner image: BMW Art Cars by Frank Stella and Andy Warhol