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Beauty and the Beast

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Over the weekend, marked by celebrations of Easter and Passover, I drove a few hundred miles in search of beauty and the beast. I stumbled upon them both, and the experience was sublime as well as riveting.

For years, I have been planning to go to the Antelope Valley to see California poppies bursting into full bloom. Usually it happens at the beginning of April, but this year, with the weather being what it is, the spectacle has been delayed by a couple of weeks. And still, what I saw was pure heaven. Take a look at the photo I snapped there: California landscape at its best and most peaceful.

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With freeway traffic -- thanks to the holiday -- almost non-existent, it took me not more than an hour to come back to Los Angeles, for the event staged outside of MOCA's Geffen Contemporary. It was around sunset, and thousands of people were lining up to be admitted into the secured area, to view Mystery Circle, a dangerous, explosive work of art by the famous contemporary Chinese artists, Cai Guo-Qiang.

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At precisely 7:30 p.m. he ignited 40,000 firework rockets, aimed toward the crowd. It was beastly. If you check out the video below, you will hear screams of terror and delight all around me.

Mystery Circle: Explosion Event for MOCA by Cai Guo-Qiang,
realized on site at the Geffen Contemporary, 2012
Video by Tom Mobley




As chance would have it, only two weeks ago I talked about another highly dramatic work of his, dealing with the subjects of death and danger. I saw it at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, where his stuffed tigers were pierced by thousands of arrows.

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A very different, Zen-like atmosphere envelopes you upon entering the exhibition Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha at Blum & Poe Gallery. It shows the work of the influential group of Japanese artists who worked in the late '60s and early '70s, who until now were virtually unknown here in the Unites States.

Most of the works, instead of being carefully crafted, are made from found materials, juxtaposed to emphasize an underlying sense of tension. A big, roughly cut, piece of granite sits on top of a crushed sheet of glass. Another multi-toned granite slab is stuffed into a huge paper envelope. Four erect steel plates try in vain to contain a pile of soft concrete, oozing onto the gallery floor. But the most talked about and particularly striking piece can by seen outside, in the gallery's garden.

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You enter the garden at your own risk. There is a massive cylinder of compressed dirt there -- nine feet tall and seven feet in diameter -- sitting next to a deep hole of the same dimensions, cut into the ground. If you are inclined to meditate on the meaning of life and death, here is your chance.

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On a more lighthearted note, I would invite you to experience the charm and seeming innocence of the works by DeLoss McGraw at Couturier Gallery. You may remember his name from several years ago, when during our annual membership drive, thousands of copies of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by him, were given as thank you gifts to KCRW subscribers.

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His mural sized tribute to Mozart emanates the happy colors -- oops, I mean sounds- of The Magic Flute. And next to it, there is a series of small books illustrated by the artist, in the most direct and unusual fashion. Reading the text, he responds to it immediately by painting upon virtually every page. When you flip through the book, you see the ghost of the text seeping mysteriously through the images. Here is a perfect marriage of images and words, with the echo of the divine music of Mozart in the background.

Banner image: Demo for Mystery Circle: Explosion Event for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, realized on site at the Geffen Contemporary, 2012, photo by Joshua White, courtesy MOCA

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, click here.