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An Uneasy Coexistence of Art and Film

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A few years ago, a very informative and extremely eloquent documentary, The Rape of Europa, (2006) introduced a wide audience to the important story about the Nazi plunder of European Art and the Allies' successful effort to preserve and return it. When I learned that George Clooney was inspired by this very story, and was slated to star in and direct the film, The Monuments Men, I was rather intrigued.

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Unfortunately, in spite of the high-profile cast, including Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and the incomparable Cate Blanchett, the story fell flat, and none of these movie stars succeeded in believably portraying their characters - the actual museum directors, curators, and art historians who were instrumental in rescuing priceless treasures of European Art.

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Among this year's Oscar contenders for Best Documentary Feature was Cutie and the Boxer, a film about the life of two artists, loving and fighting through decades of their marriage. One of them comes off as a crazy person, and the other, as a near saint. And, though neither of them is a particularly great artist, their obsessive dedication to their craft and their ability to tolerate each other made this documentary particularly moving and inspiring. Actually, I spoke about this movie when it was released last summer, and I gave it high marks. It didn't win the Oscar, but, still - if you haven't seen it, it's a must.

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I wish I could say the same about the documentary, Tim's Vermeer, still playing in theaters. It's about a man obsessed with revealing the secret of the magic of the great 17th century Dutch painter, Vermeer. Slowly and tediously, Tim Jenison, a well-to-do Texas-based inventor, builds a full-scale replica of the room and characters in the iconic Vermeer painting, "The Music Lesson". One admires his passion and perseverance, but his attempts to prove that Vermeer used camera obscura to paint with an almost photographic precision are totally unconvincing. The problem is that Tim Jenison has the mentality of a bookkeeper, who knows that two plus two makes four - but he is not able to comprehend that the magic of great artists is that when they put two and two together it never makes a proverbial four. Instead, depending on their talent and imagination, it will make ten, or twenty, or even one hundred. OK, enough about movies.

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Now, let me encourage you to see a rather unusual and challenging performance exhibition, "Enlightenment Discourse on the Origins of Architecture," on view every day at The Gallery at REDCAT in The Disney Concert Hall. Argentinean-born, London-based artist Pablo Bronstein created a complex staging, consisting of mobile wooden replicas of furniture and architectural elements evoking the feeling of an 18th century room. The most intriguing part of the experience is watching an actor performing an elaborate dance amidst this architectural setting. And when the dance is over, we watch the actor become a stagehand, moving and rearranging all parts of the set. You can see this performance every day from 3-6pm until Friday. And another good thing about this performance exhibition is that it's free.

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Last week, I talked about Jackson Pollock's "Mural," which was carefully studied and conserved by the Getty specialists. This mural became the subject of a small, focused exhibition at the Getty Museum, which opened today and will run through June 1. It's not easy to tell the public about the intricate process of conservation and make it engaging, rather than delivering an academic lecture. This exhibition -- the way it presents this great painting and tells its story - makes the whole experience very intimate and almost tangible.

What's worth noting is that this is not the first time a Pollock painting has graced the walls of the Getty Museum. In 2005, Scott Schaefer, then the Chief Curator of Paintings at the Getty, borrowed from MOCA one of its most treasured masterpieces -- Pollock's painting known as "Number 1" (1949). It was displayed to a maximum effect in a gallery full of Impressionist paintings. In exchange, Paul Schimmel, then Chief Curator of MOCA, was allowed to borrow an 1893 painting by Edvard Munch, "Starry Night," which he displayed in a gallery full of Rothko paintings. I have to admit that since this rare, unusual exchange, I've never experienced these two great paintings radiate the same vitality they did when they exchanged places across town.

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Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.