Expressions and Mobility

I am on my first trip to Los Angeles, birthplace of the movies (yes, I know about the Lumiére brothers and others around the world, but let’s face it, Hollywood is movies). There are many cool sights to behold and I am dashing from landmark to landmark with abandon.

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However, I have priorities, and less than 24 hours after I arrived I made my way to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see a couple of exhibitions and sundry other works. It is not cheap ($25 a ticket to see the featured exhibitions), but I am willing to pay for art, so it doesn’t really matter.

First up was “Expressionism in Germany and France: Van Gogh to Kandinsky.” The show features many excellent paintings that will be familiar to anyone with a basic 20th-century art book. It was an interesting show and a very broad overview of art from the fin de siécle into the 1930s.

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When I think expressionism I think the German “Die Brücke” artists, and they were well represented. I also think Van Gogh and Gauguin, and they were there also. I do not, however, think Cezanne, yet there he was. I am fully aware of the influence he had on that following generation of artists — Braque was a huge fan and it informed his cubism. But it seemed like there was an awful lot of him. Similarly, the Fauves are of the period, but not expressionistic as such, nor do I think of Picasso as an expressionist.

However, I am nitpicking. It was a fine overview of the period. And any time I can get up close and personal with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff I am a happy boy. There were some very nice woodcuts, a variety of paintings from Andre Derain to Kees van Dongen (one of my favorite names), and some books from the period.

It was a very good show but not a great one. I would have liked to see a tighter theme.

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant Garde to Iconic,” however, was a Wow!” show. It was not a massive installation, but was tight and showed Alexander Calder‘s mobiles in all their glory. Most major museums have a big Calder hanging prominently somewhere, but this show had a lot of smaller work that really showed the skill involved in the construction — especially in the delicate compositions.

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The smaller pieces use thinner wire, which makes them all the more precarious, as each element balances perfectly to create the piece. One can truly see that even a millimeter one way or the other would throw the piece into chaos — both compositionally and, probably, construction-wise. More than one piece was so finely balanced that the whole thing rested on a sharp point.

Added to the effect are the delicate shadows, like ephemeral drawings, that play on the platforms and walls around the pieces. At their best, Calder’s smaller works are three-dimensional drawings, with a flow and vibrancy that seem to defy their material construction. This show is a real treat.

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My other main delight was seeing Robert Motherwell’s “Elegy for the Spanish Republic,” which is on permanent display. It is always a treat to see a favorite painting — one that has previously existed only in art books — in the flesh. It is even better to find it lives up to its reputation. A beautiful piece and I enjoyed basking in its scale and beauty.

There’s more art than can be seen in a gallery, though, and I am off to explore the city, camera in hand. More to come later.

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