Paintings Enjoyed by All, Read and Deciphered Only by Few

Hosted by

I wonder how many of you would raise your hands if asked, "Who has been to a performance at UCLA's Royce Hall?" I wouldn't be surprised if most of you have been there on a number of occasions to see dance, theater, or a concert. But how many of you know about the museum tucked away down the hill from Royce Hall? I'm talking about the Fowler Museum, where savvy, adventurous Angelenos can find a variety of exhibitions about little-known arts and cultures. Last year I talked about an exhibition there, "Make Art/Stop AIDS," which dealt with the fragility of life and found poetry where few of us dare to search. In a couple of weeks, the Fowler Museum will unveil yet another ambitious exhibition, "The Art of Tea," examining the ways tea has shaped politics, social customs, and artistic creativity – a global journey through the tea cultures of Asia, Europe, and America.

at090728a.jpgBut for the next few days, you still have a chance to catch two wonderful exhibitions of Australian Aboriginal Art at the Fowler Museum; both are closing on Sunday. There you will be surprised (at least I was) to learn that Aboriginal painting is the oldest still-practiced form of art that has been in existence for many thousands of years. This art has always been a part of sacred ceremonies for the initiated – not to be shared with outsiders, intended to be destroyed when the ceremony is over.

at090728b.jpgWith the 1970s came a new development: Aboriginal artists were introduced to acrylic paint and for the first time began painting on canvas and masonite. What appear to us to be just abstract compositions are actually complex ancient stories embedded in intricate geometric designs meant to be 'read,' and I mean that literally. A few days ago, I had the good fortune to walk through these exhibitions with curator Kerry Smallwood, who revealed a few amazing stories buried inside these paintings. She promised to tell many more stories this coming Sunday at 2pm, when she and collector Richard Kelton will share their insider's knowledge of Australian Aboriginal Art.

at090728c.jpgBy LA standards, it's a short drive from UCLA to Beverly Hills to see the exhibition of abstract paintings by Gary Lang at ACE Gallery. Its huge main exhibition space is tamed by a dozen striking circular paintings – the largest being thirteen feet in diameter. What especially appeals to me in these works is their combination of control and abundance. Lang starts his compositions with a ribbon of color on the outer rim of the circle, having no idea what the width and color of the next ribbon will be. To quote the artist: "my process is ultimately a pleasure driven meditation on accumulating and organizing energy...The completion of a painting can take from several months to a few years." Standing in front of these paintings, pulsating with energy and color, one is slightly hesitant to get too close, for fear of being sucked into the vortex. The question remains: What do we see there, the light at the end of the tunnel, or the light of an approaching train?

at090728e.jpgTo soothe your nerves, you would be well-advised to go to see the exhibition of black and white photographs by Oscar winning actress Jessica Lange at Rose Gallery in Bergamot Station. Who would have known that in the last fifteen years she has produced an impressive body of work while traveling through the United States, Mexico, Romania, Scandinavia, and many other locations.

at090728d.jpgThere is not a hint of glamour in her stark, moody images, with their dramatically cropped compositions and obvious debt to mid-century photography. My favorite is an almost frightening shot of the back of a horse emaciated to the point where its body is reduced to a scary geometry of protruding bones. Bravo, Jessica.


Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya
On view at the UCLA Fowler Museum through August 2

Innovations in Western Desert Paintings, 1972–1999: Selections from the Kelton Foundation
On view at the UCLA Fowler Museum through August 2

Gary Lang: Circles Lines Grids
On view at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills through August 2009

Jessica Lange: 50 Photographs 1992-2008
On view at RoseGallery through September 12

Banner image: Artist Gary Lang talks about his exhibition Circles Lines Grids at ACE Gallery