THE BLOG

Manhattan on My Mind

12/15/2011 01:33 pm ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

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Whether it's global warming or simply my good luck, every time I go to New York a day after Thanksgiving, the weather is perfect -- temperatures in the 50's and 60's and, on occasion, even some sunshine. With so many museum and gallery exhibitions to squeeze into a few days, I indulge myself in staying at the small, friendly San Carlos Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which is only a ten-minute walk from MoMA and 20-30 minutes from the Whitney, the Met and the Guggenheim.

I walk in New York, in just one day, more than in Los Angeles in several months and this is my recipe for losing a few pounds: a lot of walking in search of great art. So here's the best I've seen there.

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The de Kooning retrospective at MoMA is nothing short of stunning in its narrative of an unparalleled artistic journey. On his sixth attempt as a stowaway, the young artist finally succeeds in sneaking into New York from his native Rotterdam. Slowly, steadily, he absorbs the sensibility of American contemporary art and sheds his classical training as a commercial mural painter. And then things erupt. Standing in front of his so-called Women -- the most famous, most disturbing and, undeniably, most intoxicating paintings of the 20th century -- is a once in a lifetime experience. These large canvases, with their bizarre, troubling beauty and furious brushwork, make one think of the expanding mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb explosion.

A few years ago, here at KCRW, I interviewed one of the authors of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the artist, de Kooning: An American Master. I highly recommend to you this beautifully written book that reads like a Dostoyevsky novel.

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Another MoMA showstopper is the exhibition of Diego Rivera murals that he made especially for his solo exhibition at this very museum in 1931. At the height of his artistic power and with his communist passion at its peak, Rivera created moving but undeniably propaganda-infused images of struggling peasants, cynical New York cityscapes, and humanity-devouring animals as a symbol of bloody capitalism.

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Everything that I've heard and read about the bizarre retrospective of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim turned out to be true. Dozens upon dozens of his sculptures, paintings, and photographs are suspended in a tight cluster in the museum's famous rotunda with nothing on the walls. There are his numerous self-portraits as well as a life-size figure of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteor. There's a portrait of a kneeling Hitler as a little boy next to an open refrigerator with a life-sized old lady stuffed inside. The exhibition is conceived by the artist as a farewell to his career, which, according to his statement, is now officially over. And indeed, the whole exhibition feels rather like a visit to the cemetery where all his works look like ghosts of their former selves.

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In celebration of its tenth anniversary, the Neue Galerie mounted an exhibition of hundreds of artworks from the private collection of its founder, Ronald Lauder. And let me tell you, the man has something more than an untold amount of millions of dollars; he has a rare eye for spotting the absolute best, be it Medieval Armor, Cezanne or Kandinsky paintings or Brancusi sculptures, just to name a few.

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I also went to the Whitney Museum to check out whether the David Smith exhibition there looked indeed as good as the photographs in the New York Times make you believe. One wishes the previous incarnation of his exhibition, way-too-crowded at LACMA, had the same serene beauty it emanates here at the Whitney.

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The last day in New York I spent in going through dozens of galleries in Chelsea. Once again, I swooned in front of the joyful, life-affirming paintings by the notoriously misanthropic Joan Mitchell at Cheim and Read Gallery. And the extra bonus of this gallery hopping was running into tour-de-force exhibitions of two L.A. artists: enigmatic and provocative Llyn Foulkes, in his late 70's and one of the best regarded artists of his generation, at Andrea Rosen Gallery and Tom LaDuke, who is in his 40's and whose mysterious, virtuoso paintings at CRG Gallery evoke the Old Masters' technique along with the violence of 20th century abstraction.

If you happen to be in New York, be sure you don't miss out on these excellent exhibitions.

Banner image: Diego Rivera, Frozen Assets, 1931-1932. Courtesy MoMA

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.