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It Sure Isn't Pretty, but Boy is it Beautiful

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If you had a chance to see paintings by Henry Taylor a couple of years ago at the Santa Monica Museum of Art -- his first museum show here in L.A. -- you definitely would remember the overwhelming impact of the gritty street scenes with their downtown denizens, captured by him so colorfully, so mercilessly but, ultimately, so lovingly on his large canvases.

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In his current show at Blum and Poe, installed upstairs in one of the most dramatic spaces of any commercial gallery in town, the artist continues to rattle our nerves and retinas. All images are painted in a frenetic manner, as if in a hurry. None of the figures and their surroundings are complete, but, somehow, one feels that the very essence and spirit of their story is fully told. It's rather difficult for me to see, as the gallery press suggests, the connection of Henry Taylor's images to the art of Toulouse Lautrec and John Singer Sargent. But I would agree that there is a certain influence of Alice Neel there and would speculate that the artist also knows and admires the edgy and provocative paintings by Larry Rivers.

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Entering the exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Steven Hull at Rosamund Felsen Gallery feels like stepping onto a stage crowded with eye-popping props and witnessing fascinating chaos unraveling behind the theater curtain. And if that is not enough, there are tiny choo-choo trains running in all direction on the floor, further reinforcing the phantasmagorical sense of the whole enterprise.

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Known for a wide range of projects, in which he collaborates with other artists, musicians and writers, Steven Hull, in this latest show with the gallery, continues to demonstrate a rare ability to bring all his diverse interests under one umbrella. Especially appealing are his large canvases with their precise, pulsating geometric backgrounds, and the small figurative paintings placed unexpectedly -- and to maximum effect -- at the center of each geometric composition.

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But enough about L.A., let's check out the latest art gossip and news on the national and international scene. According to The Art Newspaper, our beloved Oprah Winfrey broke the cardinal rule of art collecting according to Edward Goldman: never, ever buy art while vacationing in touristy places like Las Vegas, Hawaii -- you name it. Somehow, our collective intelligence plummets to the lowest level the moment we hit the ground in places like that. During her trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Oprah snapped up a few paintings in a local gallery, and when I checked out these artists, my only reaction was, Oy vey, poor Oprah.

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And how about this latest, from the shores of Italy: the director of the Contemporary Art Museum in Casoria, near Naples, is asking for asylum. In a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he claims he's fed up with mafia threats and Italy's neglect of its cultural heritage. In an interview with the French press, he says, "If she gives me asylum, I'm going to move to Germany with my staff and the museum's entire collection of 1,000 works." Adding insult to injury, there is the embarrassing news from the archeological site of the city of Pompeii, where portions of the ancient walls collapsed due to chronic neglect. The double irony is that all that is happening while Italian authorities are vigorously pressing American museums to return artworks they claim were illegally excavated from their territory. If only our Italian friends would apply the same vigor trying to resolve the myriad problems plaguing their own museums, which are suffering from overwhelming bureaucracy and perpetual lack of funds.

Henry Taylor at Blum & Poe
March 19 - May 7, 2011

Steven Hull at Rosamund Felsen Gallery
March 19 -- April 16, 2011

If you'd like to share your thoughts on today's show, you can post your comments at KCRW.com/arttalk.

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, visit Art Talk on KCRW.