Masterworks from the Albertina at Fresno Metropolitan Museum
When I heard about the recent experimental exhibition at LACMA, where a group of students from Fairfax High School was invited to reinstall art in one of the permanent collection galleries, I didn't like it at all. But then I learned that the well-known conceptual artist Michael Asher was asked to collaborate with students on this project. Hmm-it started to get interesting.
At the top of the Andersen Building, among the galleries devoted to the museum collection of 20th century art, there is one long narrow gallery, which always struck me as a difficult space to look at art. No longer. Seven high school juniors completely transformed the space by painting the walls black and partially covering it with mirrored silhouettes of a Manhattan-like cityscape. Aha, I get it - this is a night on the town-whatever! The energy inside this gallery is perceptibly higher than in any adjoining space. Works by Mondrian, Magritte, Duchamp, Noguchi and others are installed randomly on the walls, suspended from the ceiling or installed on free-standing pedestals. In one instance, a viewer can see the reverse side of a canvas, revealing a fascinating accumulation of labels, which trace the history of the painting from the artist's studio to its first commercial gallery, and to all subsequent exhibitions around the world. A bus bench in the center of the gallery plus music coming from speakers help to create an unusually spirited, urban atmosphere, making good art look its best.
The students got to know the way a museum works. They learned about conservation, budget, schedule, but most importantly, they had a unique one-on-one experience with works of art. The way they installed the artworks clearly indicates that these youngsters fell in love with this project. LACMA Lab, the Museum's educational program responsible for this temporary reinstallation, should be complemented for this engaging and provocative experiment.
Now, let me tell you about a remarkable exhibition of about one hundred rare prints and drawings from the famous Albertina Museum in Vienna, which are not coming to L.A. After visiting Pittsburgh and Louisville, Kentucky, this exhibition arrived at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum. Ashamed to admit, I've never heard about the museum, never been in Fresno. It is too late to go there, the exhibition closed last weekend, but looking at the first rate catalogue makes me wonder how on earth this small museum got the chance to host a stellar collection of works by Durer, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Rubens and other heavyweights of European art. Organized by Art Reach International, this exhibition came to Fresno because the Museum was willing to fit it into its schedule, while other bigger, better known institutions were completely booked for the next few years. It's a pity that none of the Los Angeles-based museums bothered to shake up their schedule to enable this show to come here.
My hat's off to the good people of Fresno, who found the time and money to bring a very good show into the heartland of the largest agricultural area in the country. It is a good lesson for important museums in large cities, which, in comparison, look a tad slow, timid and unimaginative. My next trip out of L.A., you guessed right, will be to Fresno.