President Lincoln Speaks Again

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Week after week may pass without any surprise while I'm dutifully visiting numerous gallery and museum exhibition. So you can understand why last week turned out to be particularly rewarding – I stumbled upon four good exhibitions, each appealing in its own way.

at100309b.jpgAt LA Louver Gallery in Venice, I saw the exhibition of heavily impastoed abstract paintings by Jonathan Lasker, an American artist who splits his time between New York and Munich. His geometric compositions are built either with strong primary colors or soft pastels, but in each case they balance aggressively masculine brushstrokes with lyrical, contemplative gestures. Lasker's works come across as simultaneously hot and cool - emotional, yet detached, which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that he is a graduate of CalArts, the famous southern California art school in Valencia.

at100309e.jpgAt Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Bergamot Station, I saw the elegantly installed, intriguing exhibition of video works by Oliver Michaels, a young New York-based artist who uses a variety of sculptural images – from decorative porcelain figurines to the bronze bust of President Lincoln – and with each projected image, the artist gently pulls the proverbial rug out from under your feet. You stare at a screen and a mighty lion blinks and tilts his head in acknowledgment of your presence, while a stone-faced Lincoln suddenly becomes animated and even starts talking, which I have to admit, made me giggle with delight.

at100309a.jpgAt the newly expanded Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, I marveled at the gigantic, digitally manipulated photographs by the famous German artist Andreas Gursky. Whatever subject he tackles, be it a 99¢ store or a Madonna concert, the result is nothing short of monumental, making you wonder at the sheer scope of the scene, where every tiny detail is meticulously observed and documented. In the new, "Oceans" series, with its operatic, Wagnerian overtones, Gursky manipulates satellite images of vast, dark blue stretches of ocean dotted with islands. Staring at his photographs, I couldn't help thinking about stern gods looking down in judgment on our little planet.

at100309c.jpgBut of all the exhibitions, one is especially newsworthy, and after being open for only a few days, it will close on Friday. I'm talking about the private collection of contemporary art belonging to the late Michael Crichton, the famous writer who died from cancer more than a year ago. The highlights of his collection are on display at Christie's showroom in Beverly Hills, and you will be surprised by the scope and depth of this collection, which was almost forty years in the making.

at100309d.jpg The writer was an extremely private person and avoided any publicity connected to his collecting, allowing his artworks to be shown publicly reluctantly and only on very rare occasions, as was the case with Jasper Johns' iconic painting of the American flag. Michael Crichton and Jasper Johns were lifelong friends, and that's why Johns asked Crichton to write an essay for the catalog of one of his museum exhibitions and the writer also agreed - as an exception - to loan this small painting of the flag, which otherwise always hung on the wall of his bedroom. There are a number of other outstanding works on display, including large and small works by Picasso, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Collectively, these works tell you the story of a deep knowledge and passion for art. I won't be surprised if, at the upcoming sale in New York, many of these works will fetch more than a million dollars, but when they were initially acquired by the writer, he was not thinking of them as a good investment, but simply as tokens of his friendship with so many artists whose art intrigued and inspired him - artists who had yet to achieve the pinnacle of their fame.

Jonathan Lasker: Recent Paintings
On view at LA Louver through April 3

Oliver Michaels: Museum Postcards
On view at Shoshana Wayne Gallery through April 3

Andreas Gursky
On view at Gagosian Beverly Hills through May 1

Works from the Collection of Michael Crichton
On view at Christie’s Los Angeles Galleries through Friday March 12

Banner image: Jonathan Lasker, Love Light and Dark (detail), 2009; Oil on linen, 60 x 80 in., Private collection