In LA, Marc Chagall and old masters rule the day

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On these hot Summer days in LA, with unusually high humidity, one wants to find something cool to do, to look at, and to think about. My favorite remedy on days like this is to run to the nearest museum -- especially if it has a very cool exhibition to see.

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Installation view of 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

This week, Los Angeles County Museum of Art unveils a very special exhibition celebrating the exciting union of visual art, music, and theatre. And who, among the great 20th century artists, has done more for such a union 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.

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Marc Chagall working on the panels for New York's Metropolitan Opera:
"The Triumph of Music, Atelier de Gobelins, Paris," 1966
Art © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Photo © 2017 Isiz-Manuel Bidermanas, image courtesy LACMA

It's intriguing to learn that 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. Along with designs and costumes for the ballets Aleko -- set to music by Tchaikovsky, The Firebird by Stravinsky, Daphnis and Chloé by Ravel, as well as Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, the exhibition presents rare footage of the 1942 performance of Aleko in Mexico City by the American Ballet Theatre. The exhibition will run from July 31, 2017 – January 7, 2018.

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(L) Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640), "Head of an African Man Wearing a Turban."c. 1609-13
Oil on paper, laid down on panel
(R) Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, 1475-1564), "Study of a Mourning Woman," c. 1500-05
Pen and brown ink, heightened with white
Both images courtesy Getty Museum

Meanwhile, the Getty has made an announcement that makes you want to drop whatever you are doing, and run to the museum to see its latest acquisition of 16 drawings by such Old Masters as Michelangelo, Rubens, and Tiepolo, along with 19th century greats such as Goya and Degas.

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(L) Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917), "Two Studies of Dancers," c. 1873
Black chalk, heightened with white chalk, on green paper
(R) Francisco de Goya (Spanish, 1746-1828), "The Eagle Hunter," c. 1812-20
Brush, brown ink, and wash
Both images courtesy Getty Museum

And, if that is not enough, how about a deliciously sexy painting by Watteau, "The Surprise," full of music, movement, lovemaking, and all of that with plenty of shiny silk fabric? According to the Art Newspaper, the estimated value of this collection is over $100 million.

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Jean Antione Watteau (French, 1684-1721), "La Surprise,"c. 1718
Oil on panel
Image courtesy Getty Museum

One expects that all these treasures will become the subject of a special exhibition soon. I wouldn't be surprised if the Watteau painting becomes one of the most popular artworks in the Getty's collection, the way another beloved Watteau painting owned by the Metropolitan Museum, "Mezzetin" (Guitar Player), was on the cover of the museum's collection guidebook for a number of years.

The only thing I would lament about LACMA and the Getty is that, like many Los Angeles museums, they close too early most days -– at 6, or even 5pm. That's why we should be particularly grateful to the Hammer Museum, with generous open hours until 8pm most of the week. And, on top of that, there is no admission fee.

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Installation view of "Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space"
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, June 4–August 20, 2017
Photo by Brian Forrest, image courtesy Hammer Museum

So, my friends, hurry to the Hammer, to see the exhibition of Marisa Merz, the Italian painter, sculptor, and installation artist extraordinaire. This is the first retrospective exhibition of this 91-year-old artist in the United States. In 2013, she was awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale. It definitely took quite a number of years before Marisa Merz, the only female artist in the Arte Povera movement, received well-deserved attention with such an exhibition, done in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



Benjamin Gottlieb