The Naked Truth

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Truth be told, I haven't yet seen any of the five exhibitions that I want to tell you about today – though I'm still hoping to catch one of them in New York, and another, if luck is on my side, in Florence. Two more exhibitions are coming this fall to Los Angeles, so that makes four. And the last one, the controversial installation of Jeff Koons' sculptures at Versailles, has already closed.

at090825a.jpgLet's start with that one. I can only speculate about how much money and arm-twisting it took for Larry Gagosian, the mighty gallery dealer, to persuade the French museum to juxtapose the extravagantly kitschy work of Jeff Koons with the baroque splendor of this royal palace. Just have a look at the photos on the Art Talk page of the KCRW website, where you can see the gigantic, ridiculous sculpture of a lobster dangling from the ornate, gilded ceiling – with all the comic implications of a hooker crashing a high-society cocktail party. But maybe that was the whole point of the exhibition. Anyway, I'm not sorry that I missed out on this one.

at090825b.jpgWhat really intrigues me is the exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, a provocative juxtaposition of impossibly beautiful human bodies depicted 500 years apart. This is the first major photography exhibition to be presented in any of the Florentine State museums and their first major show dedicated to an American artist. I wonder what Michelangelo would say about Mapplethorpe's photos shown next to his David, but somehow I don't think he's rolling over in his grave. It's worth noting that the show commemorates the 20th anniversary of Mapplethorpe's death, and the public responded to the exhibition with such enthusiasm that it was extended until January, 2010.

at090825c.jpgHere in Los Angeles we have something very special to look forward to in October. The crown jewel of the Frick Collection, the portrait of the Comtesse d'Haussonville by the celebrated 19th century French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), will travel from New York to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. With customary technical virtuosity, the artist's brush caresses each fold of her Delft-blue silk dress and every piece of jewelry worn by the comtesse, a remarkably attractive young woman caught in a contemplative moment. It shouldn't come as a surprise that one of her friends teasingly wrote: "Monsieur Ingres must be in love with you to have painted you this way."

at090825d.jpgLucky Pasadena, there's another remarkable exhibition coming its way: the retrospective of Wayne Thiebaud, consisting of more than a hundred works by this great California artist who will celebrate his 89th birthday in November. His paintings of the vertiginous streets of San Francisco and iconic images of baked goods will be displayed at the Pasadena Museum of California Art starting October 4.

at090825e.jpgThe one exhibition I'm dying to see is the sprawling retrospective of works by James Ensor (1860-1949), which closes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on September 21st. Ironically, a famous, monumental painting by this Belgian avant-garde artist that belongs to our very own Getty Museum, Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, cannot travel because of its fragile condition. It's unfortunate that the Getty couldn't arrange for this exhibition to come to California so we could fully appreciate the enormous impact James Ensor had on 20th century art – from German Expressionism to David Hockney. I guess the angels were too busy this time to hear our prayers.

Robert Mapplethorpe: Perfection in Form
On view at the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, through January 10, 2010

Ingres's 'Comtesse d'Haussonville' from The Frick Collection
On view at the Norton Simon Museum: October 30, 2009 - January 25, 2010

Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting
On view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art: October 4, 2009 – January 31, 2010

James Ensor
On view at MOMA through September 21, 2009

Banner image: Robert Mapplethorpe, Derrick Cross, 1982 (detail), gelatin silver print, 16x20 in, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation