THE BLOG

Paint, Glorious Paint...

07/08/2014 02:15 pm ET | Updated Sep 07, 2014

I know, I was supposed to be following along with the theme, the argument, if you will: how the shocking intensity of Van Gogh's work opened up a path for the Post-Impressionists, the brilliant Fauves, the Blaue Reiter and so on. But the theme was presented with such flawless persuasiveness in the superb installation of From Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Expressionism in Germany and France that the historical perspective just seemed to speak for itself. It required no work on my part. Instead...

... I found myself simply feasting on paint, glorious paint. With maybe a bit of nostalgia on my part. After all, paint went through a rocky period in the last three decades of the 20th century. I'm glad to see its reputation restored, but for a while, after the premature announcement of its death, its pulse was barely detectable in the welter of new media. But this exhibition takes you back to a time when exuberance with the medium was all the vogue, and the battle was on to see who could outdo the last painter in outrageousness of palette and boldness of expressive brushwork.

I love this stuff. I can't imagine anyone walking through the galleries at LACMA, looking at these paintings without a sense of sheer elation. Vincent's passion celebrated the physicality of his medium...

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... and those who followed--and learned from his example--obviously delighted in the use of brush or palette knife in the application of color to canvas. It's all there, in front of you, in the pictures on these walls. Stop for long enough to examine any one of them, and you can actually see the process as it happens...

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... following along with the artist's eye and arm between the object--abstraction didn't come along until later, with Kandinsky--and the surface of the canvas. It's the action that engages us, and the passionate spirit of investigation that motivates it.

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So, yes, the show is informative in its historical sweep. Yes, its aesthetic argument is eminently persuasive. And yes, you'll come away with a more complete understanding of the shift from representational to abstract painting in the late 19th and early 20th century. And I think, too, you'll come away saddened, as I was, by the last little explanatory label on the wall, describing in one short paragraph how all this exuberance was brought to a dead halt in 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of World War I--the moment at which, for understandable reasons, Expressionism took on a suddenly darker tone. Amongst so many others, Franz Marc was lost to us...

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His work suggests a slogan for all times: Make art, not war!