You Can Never Be Too Thin, Too Rich or Have Too Many Museums

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Keeping up with what's happening on the Southern California art scene is not as easy as it used to be. In the last 25 years, existing museums have greatly expanded and new museums have opened, while the number of commercial art galleries has jumped from a few dozen to a few hundred. A few weeks ago, I reported on the small, new, fascinating Wende Museum in Culver City, devoted to the history and culture of the Cold War era in Eastern Europe.

Another surprise jumped off the pages of the L.A. Times a few days ago. While the Getty has been battling Italian authorities over the return of a number of ancient artworks from the museum collection, the City of Anaheim, of all places, got for itself a traveling exhibition titled ‘Imperial Rome’. It consists of more than 450 artworks and artifacts borrowed from a dozen Italian and German museums. I haven't had a chance to see this exhibition yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Besides, I like the name of the new cultural center where the exhibition is taking place, Muzeo, with a Z that's the Esperanto word for ‘museum.’

Meanwhile, the Orange County Museum of Art, with its ambitious exhibition program, has outgrown its old, rather cramped space in Newport Beach. The museum hopes to move to Costa Mesa, next to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, but it's still not ready to announce the architect for the new headquarters. Rumor has it that it might be designed by a high-profile, possibly Japanese architect.

A week ago, I joined the crowds on a walk through the art galleries and museums in Pasadena. L.A.-based artist Susan Silton has wrapped the Pasadena Museum of California Art in a multi-colored striped material. In the photographs it looked intriguing, but in reality it turned out to be rather disappointing. I've seen a number of colorful fumigation tents around the city that delivered, however unintentionally, more of an artistic kick.

For me, being in Pasadena means I have to stop by the Norton Simon Museum to visit some of my favorite Old Master paintings. Two of them, 'Adam' and 'Eve,' painted in the 16th century by Lucas Cranach the Elder, have been in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons. Once, they belonged to an aristocratic Russian family, the Stroganoffs, whose art collection was appropriated by Bolsheviks after the 1917 October Revolution. Later, the Soviet government sold these paintings to Jacques Goudstikker, a Jewish art dealer in Amsterdam, who died while trying to escape the Nazi invasion in 1940. Last year, Netherland authorities ordered the return of more than 200 artworks from various Dutch museums to Goudstikker's family, when it was proven that these works had once belonged to him.

But when an American descendant of this art dealer filed a claim in Los Angeles Federal Court against the Norton Simon Museum, demanding the return of ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’, the judge ultimately decided in favor of the Museum. It's a complicated case. These life-sized paintings did belong to Goudstikker for a few years. But, after World War II, Dutch authorities determined that they must be returned to the Stroganoff family, who were unlawfully deprived of them during the Russian Revolution. A few days ago, the L.A. judge determined that the 1970 purchase of 'Adam' and 'Eve' by Norton Simon from this Russian family was totally legal. Case dismissed.

Wende Museum
5741 Buckingham Parkway, Suite E
Culver City, CA. 90230 310- 216-1600

'Imperial Rome'
runs October 16 through January 7, 2008
241 South Anaheim Blvd
Anaheim, CA 92805

Susan Silton's 'Inside Out'
Exterior Installation: October 10 - November 10
Interior Exhibition: October 10 - January 6, 2008
Pasadena Museum of California Art
490 East Union Street Pasadena, CA 91101

Banner image: Details from 'Adam' and 'Eve' by Lucas Cranach the Elder, © 2002 Norton Simon Art Foundation