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Edward Goldman

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Dark, Sexy, Provocative. The Choice Is Yours

Posted: 09/23/2011 5:31 pm

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You probably heard the joke that one cannot be too thin or too rich. To which I usually like to add, with a wink, that one cannot have too much good art either. But with excellent exhibitions popping up in and around our city, I have a feeling that we, Angelinos, are in real danger of overdosing. So let me take care of you by recommending only a few good art exhibitions.

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At UCLA, at the small but feisty Fowler Museum, there is a retrospective of large-scale figurative paintings and drawings by acclaimed Cuban artist José Bedia, who emigrated to the United States in 1993. His dark, moody and highly theatrical artworks -- with their references to, among others, Native American and African cultures -- often incorporate sacred texts. But even without translation, you feel as if you're witnessing an intense, spiritual ceremony channeled by the artist with a generous dollop of flair and eloquence.

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When we think about L.A. artists who put our city on the map, the name of Alexis Smith immediately comes along with her contemporaries, such as John Baldessari, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. An exhibition of her delightfully witty artworks from the 1970's is currently on display at Thomas Solomon Gallery in Chinatown. Few artists can compete with Alexis Smith's unique talent for creating tightly edited, haiku-like collages comprised of everyday objects mixed with a few words. This small exhibition presents the artist at her intimate best, with my favorite collage referencing ancient Greek culture.

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The next exhibition you don't want to miss is also in Chinatown, at The Box gallery, just a few steps away. Late L.A. artist, John Altoon (1925-1969), famous for his erotically charged imagery, is presented by 40 large drawings hung wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Represented by the famous Ferus gallery in its hey-day, John Altoon was a member of its celebrated bad boys' club. And considering that all his virtuoso drawings have sexually explicit subjects, you might want to enjoy them without in-laws or your kids nearby.

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Among the artists who defined what is known as the Chicano art movement in L.A. is a painter who goes by the name Gronk. Samples of his drawings, paintings and murals are on display in yet another nearby gallery, L2Kontemporary.

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Intense and phantasmagorical, his semi-abstract compositions have a highly theatrical flair, which shouldn't be a surprise considering his highly acclaimed collaboration with Peter Sellers for opera productions presented all over the world. With the embarrassing exception of here, in L.A. Is anyone listening?

Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia
UCLA Fowler Museum
September 18 - January 8, 2012

Alexis Smith: Early Works
Thomas Solomon Gallery
September 10 - October 22, 2011

John Altoon: 40 Drawings
The Box LA
September 17 - October 22, 2011

Gronk: Empty Lines
L2K Contemporary
September 10 - October 22, 2011

Banner image: José Bedia, Utenu Kazaye, 2007; Acrylic on canvas, 180 x 454 cm. Collection of Roger and Mariela Tovar

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.