The last day of 2011 ended on a rather dramatic note: something stopped me -- figuratively and literally -- in my tracks. I almost bumped into it. It was big, shiny and made out of stainless steel. And, no, it was not, thank God, any of the shiny nonsense by Jeff Koons.
The huge sculpture stood at the busy corner of La Brea and 4th Street and looked at me and everyone else with an intimidating, stern expression. I recognized the man instantaneously: Vladimir Lenin, the one who changed the course of the 20th century, the leader of the Russian Revolution, the founder of the Soviet Union. What the hell's going on?
I got out of the car for a closer look and that's when I noticed a smaller figure of a naked acrobat walking on the top of Lenin's bald head. A-ha, this acrobat not only had the face of Mao Zedong but he had boobs, and that's when I knew for sure the sculptor, or rather sculptors, who made it: the Gao brothers, well-known Chinese dissident artists. Making mockery of Chairman Mao brought them fame and got them into trouble with Chinese authorities. Shortly before the Olympic Games, I visited them in their Beijing studio and learned how lucky I was. The two policemen who had been stationed for months outside their studio, turning visitors away, had been removed just a few days before.
After welcoming the New Year with an obligatory champagne glass -- oh, well, maybe more than one glass, but who counts? -- I passed this huge bust of Lenin once again on the way home. It was still there but, in the middle of the night, it looked even more mysterious and unsettling. Take a look at the photographs I took for the KCRW website, and I think you will know what I mean.
This sculpture, as I found out, will stay here until May, symbolically marking the birth of yet another museum here, Ace Museum. Rumors that Doug Chrismas, the well-known Los Angeles art dealer, is planning to open a private museum have been circulating for years. Construction is still underway, but let's stay tuned...
As the saying goes, "One cannot be too thin or too rich," to which I like to add that one cannot have too many museums either. The last few weeks brought news about the opening of two more ambitious American museums. The Crystal Bridges Museum, designed by Moshe Safdie, sprung up in Bentonville, Ark., and was financed and conceived by WalMart heiress, Alice Walton. The museum collection is the result of a rather short but very intense shopping spree by the heiress, who could afford to spend a few hundred million dollars on these speedy art acquisitions. Reports on her efforts, so far, have been rather mixed.
Another museum, this one many decades in the making and with a lot of gravitas, just opened in Denver -- the Clyfford Still Museum. One of the best-known American artists, Still (1904-1980) was a famously difficult person to deal with. He was notorious for making impossible demands on museum curators who wanted to show his works and refusing to sell his paintings even to the most important collectors. As a result, after his death, hundreds, if not thousands, of his artworks were still in his studio. In his will, the artist specified that all his art should be given to the city that agrees to designate a museum just to him and his art: never to be loaned, never to be sold, never to be shown alongside works by any other artist.
I am not sure if I will make it to Arkansas to the Crystal Bridges Museum, but I definitely want to go to Denver to see Clyfford Still's art. Just looking at the beautiful installation shots of his museum's galleries make you want to jump on a plane.
Banner image: Sunset in the Pacific Palisades, Jan. 1, 2012. Photo by Edward Goldman.
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.