Under Cover and Behind Closed Gates

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at080422a.jpgWhen a few years ago, two Los Angeles museums, MOCA and the Hammer, jointly organized a sprawling exhibition devoted to the history of the American comic strip and comic book, I felt underwhelmed and slightly excluded from all the excitement that surrounded the exhibition. Probably it had something to do with the fact that I didn't grow up in this country, and as a boy, I missed the chance to be swept away by Superman or Spider-man or any of their ilk. So, imagine my surprise at falling in love with a comic book, which for the last couple of weeks I simply have not been able to get out of my mind. Until now, I didn't even know that comic books could come this way: in hardcover with an elegant dust jacket bearing the image of a mysterious man in a fedora, straight out of the black-and-white movies of yesteryear.

at080422b.jpg On occasion, publishers send me books to review, though it's rather rare that I choose to do so. But paging through this graphic novel, based on the famous 1931 German film M by Fritz Lang and illustrated by contemporary American artist Jon J Muth, I couldn't help admiring the artistry of the images and the sophistication of the whole package. Jon J Muth's illustrations have a striking resemblance to film stills of the silent-era, and the book's expensive, silky paper evokes the romance and opulence of old movie palaces. Published by Abrams with loving attention to detail, this book makes me think about the simple flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, and the story of her evolution into the ‘belle of the ball.'

at080422c.jpg Another book which recently arrived on my doorstep and continues to dominate the book pile crowding my coffee table is the lavishly produced catalogue of the art collection belonging to the Frederick Weisman Foundation. In the 1970's and 80's, Frederick Weisman was a globe-trotting philanthropist with a larger-than-life personality and a well-deserved reputation as one of the most adventurous collectors of contemporary art. Not too many people are aware that in the heart of LA's exclusive Holmby Hills, hidden in plain sight lies a treasure trove of art covering the span of 20th century, from Picasso, Brancusi, and Giacometti to Rothko, de Kooning, Magritte and a number of works by younger artists, whom the collector prided himself on discovering before they became household names.

at080422d.jpg The book, with its excellent photographs of the interiors of this sumptuous Spanish-style house, gives an almost visceral impression of a leisurely walk through the living quarters of the house and adjacent art gallery, where everything remains as it was in 1994, the year Frederick Weisman died. The collector's widow, Billie Milam Weisman, is the head of the foundation, and this book is clearly a labor of love. Don't be surprised if during the guided tour of the collection, you encounter Mrs. Weisman, who will introduce herself and might even offer a story or two about how this collection was put together. Because of neighborhood restrictions, the Foundation is open only until early afternoon and the number of visitors is limited, so reservations are needed. If you go to the Art Talk website, you will find all the relevant information for such a visit.

Los Angeles is recognized today as one of the world's major contemporary art centers, and this ascendance to the top is in large part due to the growing number of devoted collectors, among whom Fred Weisman, with his almost childlike enthusiasm for art, stills stands apart.

Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation
Tour Hours: Monday through Friday, from 10:30am-2:30pm
Advanced reservations are required
Tel: (310) 277-5321 Fax: (310) 277-5075 Email: tours@weismanfoundation.org

Banner image: Weisman Foundation interior view, living room; photograph by David Moore