Traveling abroad provides a welcome opportunity to step away from the routine and obligations of everyday life. But when you are lucky enough to live in LA, in a city that in the last few decades has become a major player in the international art scene, the cultural echo of our City of Angels follows you in the most amusing way. I just returned from two weeks travelling in Holland and France, but LA was travelling with me, so to speak, for most of the trip, as if I kept it in my backpack.
Within hours of my arrival to Amsterdam, an American friend of mine who lives there asked if I would like to see a dance performance that night. "Sure," I said. "I would like that." And guess what it was? The Los Angeles Dance Project, founded by Benjamin Millepied, with set design by famous LA artist Barbara Kruger. Guilty as charged, I have never seen this company perform in my hometown, and I was absolutely blown away by the quality of their sold-out performance in Amsterdam.
The next day I spent visiting two major museums, which were closed for remodeling and restoration for more than ten years. The Rijksmuseum, with its astonishing collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer, finally reopened in all its Victorian glory. The Rijks, being one of the most famous museums in the world, is open seven days a week year-round. And this is great, but unfortunately it's crowded to the point that it prevents you from fully enjoying your experience. Still, I had a chance to say hello to Vermeer's Woman In Blue Reading A Letter, the painting that visited the Getty Museum only a few months ago.
The new extension of the Stedelijk Museum, designed by Benthem Crouwel, has received mixed reviews, but I thought of this building as a much-needed jolt of energy to the charmingly conservative neighborhood. And it was intriguing to see the towering Richard Serra sculpture interacting with the glistening white skin of this building.
The Stedelijk reopened in December with a retrospective of major Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley, who tragically committed suicide shortly before the show's debut. But lucky for me, this exhibition travelled to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where I found myself just a few days later. Seeing this exhibition through the prism of his suicide, one cannot help but "hear" the artist's pain and cries for help. We can talk more about this and compare our notes when this travelling exhibition finally comes to Los Angeles.
Another major exhibition I had the chance to see in Paris was a retrospective of Keith Haring at the Musée d'Art Moderne. More than twenty years after his death, his art is still brimming with vitality and fresh energy, while the works of so many of his fellow celebrity artists from the 1980's come across as tired and outdated. You want to ask me what the connection with LA was this time? Here it comes... The impressive, monumental painting by Keith Haring, greeting visitors in the lobby of the museum, was on loan from the Eli Broad Foundation in Santa Monica.
Do you recall the unusual exhibition two years ago at LACMA, showing a few dozen 14th century marble sculptures of mourning monks from the tomb of a duke of Burgundy in Dijon? Coming to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, I had proverbial déjà vu all over again when I encountered a similar group of "mourners" from the tomb of another duke of Burgundy. You will never see medieval sculptures conveying so much realistic detail in their gestures and expressions. It's as if you can see and hear these mourners crying, praying and lamenting in front of you.
While enjoying every moment of my interaction with these sculptures in Dijon, I have to admit that the display at LACMA showed the mourners to even better effect. In Dijon, the sculptures are displayed inside glass cabinets, while here in LA we had the advantage of seeing them directly, without any degree of separation.
I would like to hear from you, and to know if your trips abroad made you think about LA as often and as much as my recent trip to Europe did.
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, click here.