Young Men and a Lot of Chocolate

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In the art world, the beginning of September is a time when bells start ringing, announcing the opening of the autumn season. Galleries and museums do their best to attract audiences returning from the holidays. And this year is no exception. But with the Pacific Standard Time extravaganza, unleashed by the Getty Research Institute with its $10 million grant to roughly 60 cultural institutions around Southern California, these past few days turned out to be a sheer riot.

Not only was it nearly impossible to find parking in the bustling gallery district of Culver City; one had to master the completely non-Los Angeles skill of negotiating one's way through the throngs of art lovers crowding the sidewalks.

Thank god, I found a few excellent exhibitions in the less-crowded, though far from empty, galleries near the beach in Venice and Santa Monica. And here's my list for you of the best shows you definitely don't want to miss.

at110913b.jpgLet's start with L.A. Louver Gallery, showing new paintings by 85-year-old British painter Leon Kossoff, along with mixed-media works from the 1960's by well-known Los Angeles artist, Tony Berlant. If you've never seen Kossoff's works before, don't expect to fall in love or be seduced by his somber landscapes and portraits, with their heavy, encrusted surfaces and decidedly low-key palette. Come to see his paintings after you've taken care of all your needs -- hunger, sleep, sex, you name it — and stay with these images for a few extra moments until you start to hear their quiet voices, telling stories evoking times past.

at110913a.jpgIf like me, you are a big fan of Tony Berlant's metal collages, you will be endlessly amused by these old works of his, which were in storage for almost fifty years. With a variety of ladies clothing glued to the canvas and painted over, these works look like spirited—or should I say naughty, very naughty—but nevertheless whimsical pages out of an artistic diary, telling the exuberant story of a good time had by all. I wonder what happened to all these women whose garments Tony was able to sweet talk away from them.

at110913e.jpg And now a few words about the one and only Beatrice Wood, whose ceramic sculptures, on display at Santa Monica Museum of Art, are as endlessly charming and seductive as the artist herself, who lived to be 105 and who didn't lose her vivacity until the very end. In her famous response to an inquiry about the source of her youthful spirit, the 90-year-old artist revealed her secret: Oh, it's simple — young men and a lot of chocolate.

And you, my friends, will find plenty of young, gorgeous men if you go just a few steps across away from the Santa Monica Museum to Craig Krull Gallery, with its three diverse current exhibitions. There is a bunch of young artists there, whose portraits were expertly drawn by Don Bachardy in the 1960's. Then, these artists were mostly unknown, but today, their names immediately prick up your ears: Frank Gehry, Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha, and the list goes on.

at110913c.jpgIf you have lived in Los Angeles and never heard the name of photographer Julius Shulman, you've been missing the most iconic images of our city of Angels. Here is another artist who lived and worked well into his 90s. His black and white photographs have the glamour and precision of film noir. It's easy to imagine Mona Lisa inhabiting the serene world captured by his camera.

at110913d.jpgLet's end up on an appropriately high, even slightly dizzying, note, with a series of small pastels and paintings by wonderful Chicano artist Carlos Almaraz. It's difficult to believe that it's already been two decades since he passed away. His phantasmagorical images burst with color and one can feel his brush still dancing around the edges.

L.A. Louver Gallery
Leon Kossoff
September 8-October 8

Tony Berlant: Works from 1962 - 1964
September 8-October 8


Santa Monica Museum of Art
Beatrice Wood: Career Woman—Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects
September 10, 2011–March 3, 2012


Craig Krull Gallery
Don Bachardy: Portraits of L.A. Artists
September 10–October 15

Julius Shulman: 80 Years of Photography
September 10–October 29

Carlos Almaraz: Paintings, Pastels and Drawings
September 10–October 29

Banner image: (L-R) Don Bachardy's Ed Moses, 1978, pencil on paper; Tony Berlant, 1978, pencil and ink wash on paper; Frank Gehry, 1978, acrylic on paper