Oh boy, last weekend was so hot and humid. The only way I knew how to keep my sanity was to find something cool - very cool - to do. So, into the mountains I go, to say "Goodbye" to a very special man on the last day of his journey to Los Angeles. OK, enough teasing... It was the last day of the amazing exhibition, "The Scandalous Art of James Ensor" at The Getty Museum. A majority of the works in this exhibition came from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp. This museum is currently closed for remodeling, which is why these treasures were allowed to travel for this exhibition.
To my surprise and delight, the exhibition was crowded with visitors, who were not just passing by, but literally staring at each and every one of Ensor's paintings, drawings, and etchings. And how couldn't they? His large paintings or small drawings and etchings have a way of startling and, sometimes, even shocking one's eyes. Take a look at the scandalous etching, "Doctrinal Nourishment," with its Royal and Religious figureheads defecating - yes, literally defecating - on the people beneath them. Years later, when the artist was no longer a provocateur, he was honored with the title of Baron. Embarrassed by this early, scandalous work, Ensor tried to find and destroy as many copies of this etching as possible. A rare, surviving copy of this etching presented in this exhibition belongs to Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Lucky for us, Ensor's major masterpiece, his monumental "Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889," will never leave LA. It was acquired for the Getty Museum in 1987, and is regarded as one of the most rare and famous paintings in their collection.
The same weekend, I went to cool my heels by seeing ambitious gallery exhibitions by two major Los Angeles artists. At Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, I saw the newest body of works by Edgar Arceneaux; drawings, paintings, and sculptures reflecting upon the political history of the Civil Rights movement. A number of the works in the exhibition have direct references to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What I found particularly rewarding is the fact that these politically charged works also have a very dramatic visual impact. My favorites are reflective glass panels with text from an anonymous letter sent to Dr. King in 1964, calling for him to commit suicide or face severe consequences. Several years later, it was revealed that the letter was sent - surprise surprise - by Edgar Hoover himself.
The second exhibition that helped me to survive during the hot weekend was a groundbreaking - or more precisely, wallbreaking - show at Regen Projects by the well-known Los Angeles artist Doug Aitken. I've been a big fan of his video works, but this time, he took me by surprise with his sculptural installations, many of them incorporating photography. In several cases, the artist literally broke through the gallery walls to install his art to the most theatrical effect.
Always an exceptional showman, Aitken is not only able to grab one's attention, he knows how to stop you in your tracks. His mirrored sculptures question us: Where is the Exit? Where is the End? What is Now? And, don't expect the artist to provide you with the answers... that's your job.
I wrapped up my weekend with the guilty pleasure of watching an army of people sweating over the impossible task of moving a gigantic 340-ton granite boulder along the 105-mile journey from a quarry in Riverside to LACMA. You guessed right, I'm talking about Michael Heizer's "Levitated Mass," the subject of a new documentary by Doug Pray, currently playing at Landmark's NUART theater through this Thursday, September 11. Even if you haven't had the surreal sensation of walking under Heizer's enormous boulder on LACMA's campus, this documentary will allow you to experience the drama, confusion, and ultimate victory in achieving the most crazy and ambitious project one can imagine.
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.