CELEBRATING 300 YEARS OF RUSSIAN CULTURE IN L.A.
The year 2002 closed with two major American museum's announcing that their ambitious expansion projects went kaput. Guggenheim suffered a double loss: first, it announced the abandonment of its plan to build a gigantic Frank Gehry-designed satellite in Manhattan; next came news of the closure of the Las Vegas-based Guggenheim museum in the Venetian Hotel. Here in L.A., LACMA officials threw in the towel over their battle to replace the four existing museum buildings with a Rem Koolhaas-designed semi-translucent, but not sufficiently thought-out project. But more about that another day.
One museum in the Southland that consistently surprises me with a string of good news is San Diego Museum of Art. While other museums are slashing their operating budgets and reducing their staff, San Diego Museum keeps going strong. Last year, a generous donation of $100 million dollars from one of its longtime patrons has obviously been a great help. The good news is that the museum puts its energy and resources into expanding its exhibition program. Last weekend I went to see a hell of a show there, "Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940-1960". Organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, this captivating show packs in 240 items covering the whole range of American culture from High to Low. You will find children's toys and period jewelry, graphic design and TV commercials, fashion and furniture.
All that becomes an intriguing and informative background for a few stand-out masterpieces of American mid-century art by Noguchi and David Smith, Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky, de Kooning, Lee Krasner and Louise Bourgeois just to name a few. Atomic cloud and organic kidney-shaped forms are very much in evidence in works by many artists and designers of this period. But, in spite of World War II and the Cold War that followed, one is acutely aware of the irrepressible Yankee optimism and energy that manifest so strongly in American art and design of this era. Attractively installed, this show is well worth a trip to San Diego. Be warned, it's closing on January 26.
Back to L.A. I want to mention two events in the upcoming week, nicely coinciding with an important cultural landmark in Russian history: the founding of the city of St. Petersburg three hundred years ago by Peter the Great. Santa Monica College Art Gallery, at 11th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, is having an opening of contemporary Russian art from St. Petersburg between six and eight this Friday evening. The exhibition is organized by Edward Emdin, a prominent Russian art gallery director, who will speak on Monday, January 13 at 7pm. I'll probably see you there.
At Nuart Theatre, coming up for only a short one-week release, is an ultimate art-house movie, RUSSIAN ARK, which made a splash last autumn at the New York Film Festival. Filmed inside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, with two thousand extras dressed in period costumes, this lavish hour and a half-long movie was shot in an unprecedented, uninterrupted, unedited single take. Talk about chutzpah and good luck! The camera slowly moves through several dozen galleries filled with characters enacting scenes from Russian history. I would like the film more if not for the pretentious conversation between the unseen movie director and a fictional French traveler who leads us through the museum. Ironically, the English subtitles offer a significant improvement over the original Russian dialogue, with its annoying second-rate Dostoyevsky ruminations about man and God, East and West.
"Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940-1960"
October 26, 2002 - January 26, 2003
San Diego Museum of Art
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92112
January 10 - February 7, 2003
Santa Monica College
11th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(more Russia Fest events at other SMC locations)
January 10 - 16, 2003
11272 Santa Monica Boulevard
(just west of the 405 Freeway)
West Los Angeles, CA 90025