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Art, Sex, and Rock 'N' Roll

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Have you ever seen a first-rate theater performance, sitting front and center, close to the stage? That's how I felt walking through the smart, captivating, and elegantly installed exhibition at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Even its title, Speaking in Tongues, pricks up your ears. And let me assure you: the naughty, photo-based, provocative works by two Angelino artists -- Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken -- will raise your body temperature by a couple of degrees, unless, of course, you're dead.

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Just take a look at the snapshots of these two Bad Boys on KCRW.com, and then spend a few minutes browsing through their works -- all these sexy, smoky, tough but ultimately loving images of nude female figures -- and you will understand that, in their case, "Bad Boys" is a term of endearment.

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At the nearby Norton Simon Museum, I saw the large, ambitious exhibition telling the full story of printmaking in Southern California in the post World War II period. Going, once again, back to the theatrical metaphor, this exhibition made me feel as though I'm still in good seats, but now I'm looking down on the stage from further away, from the balcony. The presentation felt a touch too formal for my taste, but, nevertheless, there were some great surprises.

Like an amazing, large lithograph by Louise Nevelson, printed at the famous Tamarind Workshop. And the showstopper by Ed Kienholz, produced by the ever-adventurous Gemini GEL workshop -- a limited edition sculpture of a car door with a glass window displaying a photo of group of white thugs castrating a black man. Here, Ed Kienholz is quoting his own groundbreaking, large-scale installation from the late 60's, Five Car Stud. After being hidden for almost 40 years, this amazing and frightening installation is currently on display at LACMA.

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By the way, do you recall the recent exhibition of David Smith, not long ago on display in LACMA's Resnick Pavilion? Most of the viewers felt that its layout was way too crowded for so many sculptures. But now that this exhibition has traveled to New York, to the Whitney Museum, one cannot help but feel a tinge of jealousy. There, in the much smaller galleries, curators managed the near impossible and gave these magnificent sculptures what they need the most -- a lot of breathing space. Which, unfortunately, was not the case here in L.A.

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Hey, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, why don't we treat ourselves with a trip to the East Coast, to check out a few of the best shows there. David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy, which runs through January 8, definitely should be on our list. And how about a perfect counterpoint to the genius of this 20th Century American artist? Of course, I'm thinking about the one and only Edgar Degas and his current exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, which runs through February 5. The glowing, extremely eloquent review by Peter Schjeldahl in the current issue of the New Yorker is a rare example of an art critic not afraid to reveal his admiration as well as biases toward the art of this great master. "More than a hundred young naked women crowd the walls in paintings, drawings, prints and pastels. Twenty others hold torturous poses in bronze. The cumulative effect is both steamy and cold... Was Degas a misogynist?... The Dreyfus affair smoked him out as a vicious anti-Semite..." So, once more, we are dealing with a son-of-a-bitch-artist, whom Gods and Muses, in their inexplicable logic, granted with a great talent.

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Speaking in Tongues: Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken, 1961-1976

Armory Center for the Arts

October 2, 2011 - January 22, 2012

Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California

Norton Simon Museum

October 1, 2011 - April 2, 2012

David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy

Whitney Museum

October 6, 2011-January 8, 2012

Degas and the Nude

Boston Museum of Fine Art

October 9, 2011 - February 5, 2012


Banner: (L) Unknown photographer, Wallace Berman at Larkspur, 1958; Courtesy of the Estate of Wallace Berman and Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, California

(R ) Wallace Berman, Trophi, n.d., Verifax collage and acrylic paint; Collection of Russel Tamblyn, Santa Monica, California

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