You would imagine that after seeing an especially successful exhibition, an art critic would take a break from the never-ending steeplechase and rest for a while, savoring the moment. Not a chance. You might imagine that after seeing an especially disappointing exhibition, yours truly would stop for a moment to lick his aesthetic wounds. Wrong again. Like a shark whose very nature demands constant movement bringing oxygen through his gills, an art critic's very being depends on an endless flow of art through his eyes. Maybe it's an addiction, a happy addiction, you might say. On a good day or a bad day, on a slow one or a busy one, it's all the same: an art critic always needs and wants to see some art.
Peter Saul's exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art is the first American survey of fifty years of his art. Many people admire the artist's never-abating desire to make merciless fun of major political and cultural figures of the past and present, be it a buffoonish Washington crossing the Delaware or a Rambo-like Stalin shooting a bunch of cartoon Nazis. For me, Peter Saul's jokes and aesthetic have a very limited appeal. Even a brief look at his laborious, large canvases makes me feel exhausted.
The much-anticipated retrospective of American modernist architect John Lautner opened last weekend at the Hammer Museum, and if you are a big fan of his talent, there is plenty to savor there: numerous drawings, large-scale models, and videos projected on the walls. The irony is that the man didn't like LA –- actually he hated it –- but the post World War II construction boom in Southern California gave him a unique opportunity to exercise his distinct architectural language. To imagine our city without such iconic buildings as his Chemosphere is as impossible as not being able to see the Hollywood sign above Sunset Boulevard. This thoroughly researched exhibition, like any architectural exhibition, has nevertheless an inherent contradiction: it has a few degrees of separation from the actual object of your interest and desire. To see the Real Thing, you would be well advised to sign up for one of the John Lautner House Tours offered by the museum.
The resolutely conservative and stately Huntington Library kicks up some dust with the delightful show of nearly 250 photographs capturing body and landscape of the City of Angels in the exhibition appropriately titled This Side of Paradise. One sees there the earliest photographic documentation of this city and marvels at how much the Santa Monica Bay, Pasadena, or downtown LA have changed since the presumably more innocent times of the last decades of the 19th century. Movie stars and porn stars –- and everything in between –- all that and more can be found in this imaginatively installed exhibition where photographs not only hang on the walls but ‘grow' out of the floor like weeds in a vacant lot.
The never-ending stream of encounters that I have with art and artists, collectors, dealers, and museum curators makes me acutely aware that such privilege comes with responsibility: to inform, and definitely to share with you my enthusiasm or lack thereof. If you want to have firsthand experience of my gypsy wanderings through the art scene of LA, you might want to join this summer's session of my Fine Art of Art Collecting seminar. It starts this Saturday, July 19 and for more information, you can contact me at EdwardGoldman@earthlink.net.
On view at the Orange County Museum of Art (Newport Beach Galleries) through September 21
Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner
On view at the Hammer Museum through October 12
This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in L.A. Photographs?
On view at The Huntington (Boone Gallery and Library West Hall) through Sept. 15
Banner image: Detail of John Humble's Selma Avenue at Vine Street, Hollywood, January 23, 1991, 1991; C-print, 38½ x 30 in; © John Humble, Courtesy Jan Kesner Gallery