Sunday, April 23, 2006

Art of Empowerment /L.A.

I went to the opening of the "Totems to Turquoise: Native American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and the Southwest" at the Autry National Center, which is a splendid show. The jewelery was some of the most beautiful I've ever seen; in addition, many pieces incorporated the myths and beliefs of the Native Cultures. What astounded me about the Native jewelry was it just wasn't for show-off or adornment but the many pieces connected the wearers to identity, spirit and culture. The show, through August 20, is splendid.

I went to the UCLA Fowler Museum to see "Carnival in Europe and the Americas: Photographs by Robert Jerome" and "Carnival!"--both shows ended on April 23. I also saw the carnival at UCLA including stilt walkers, costumed krewes, a best costume contest, and music and dance. The two exhibits portrayed carnival in eight cultures: Spain; Berne, Switzerland; Venice, Italy; Brazil; Bolivia; a Caribbean city; Mexico; and New Orleans. What was fascinating is that though there were common elements--costumed groups portray mythical creatures--each country changed carnival and made the celebration its own. The Indians in Bolivia snuck in their native deities and made cutting comments on the upper (Spanish) classes. The Fowler show was amazing. Again and again street people use costumes to satirize those in power and to celebrate themselves and their own populist cultures.

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (L.A.C.M.A.) I saw the "Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings From the collection of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer." Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer were wealthy Austrian Jewish art patrons who befriended and supported artists in 1920s Vienna. Klimt made two wonderful portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer. In both portraits Klimt portrays Bloch-Bauer as a intelligent, sophisticated and beautiful woman. Growing up I never saw such a portrait of a artistically sensitive Jewish woman, who befriended the leading painters of her day as well as buying their works.

Adele Bloch-Bauer died before World War II; during Nazi period her husband Ferdinand fled to Switzerland, leaving his art collection behind. The Nazis basically confiscated the collection, and after the war the Klimt paintings wound up in a Vienna gallery. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer had willed his Klimt paintings to his neice Maria who in the last decade sued the Austrian government for the paintings and won 5 out of 6 of them. I agree with this court decisions. L.A.C.M.A. is exhibiting them to the public for the first time. Through June 30. The Klimts, particularly the two portraits of Adele Block-Bauer, are gorgeous paintings. It's good to see how a citizen was finally able to triumph over a government to get control of her artistic inheritance.

The next day I stopped by to see the new Ruth Weisberg show at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, 357 No. LaBrea, thruough May 31. Ruth Weisberg is my contemporay favorite painter; her paintings are on the cover of my last two books of poetry. I think of her as a present-day counterpart of Chagal--a splending Jewish-American woman artist. She has a long career of over 40 years from the 1960's to the present doing both paintings and drawings including a wonderful series on the shtetl which she made into a book.

In her paintings and drawings of the 1960s you see a young woman exploring sexuality and politics of the 1960s including paintings of Che; in the 1970s she became a mother, so many of the paintings show pregnant woman swimming and then celebrate young children. Over the decade she has many wonderful paintings on both art historical and biblical themes but she always makes them new--shows these subjects in the eyes of totally modern woman.

Weisberg's painting "Wrestling with the Messenger" of an adrogynous figure wrestling with the angel is on the cover of my book Shulamith while her painting "Exile and Exodus" of a strong woman figure walking barefoot into the unknown is on the cover of my book Walker Woman. Weisberg gently criticizes the male gaze of macho artists through her own portraits of naked women such as the pregnant bather who is not a sex object but enjoying swimming through water.

Finally, this afternoon I went to see the opening show for the Hannah Wilke at Solway Jones, 5377 Wilshire Blvd., Tuesday-Saturday, 11-6, through May 20. Wilke was a leading American Jewish performance/conceptual artist. She used the body as the site of art from the 1960s to her death from cancer in the 1990s. In Wilke's "I Object: Memoirs of a Sugar Giver, 1977-78" is a "Performalist Self-Portrait" she did in Spain near Marchel Duchamp's home. The work is a critique of Marcel Duchamp's objectification of women. What I like about Wilke's work is her agressiveness in-your-face confrontration as she says, "Here am I! Here is my naked body! Here is my authority!" Wilke is assaulting the male gaze as well as male authority in art.

I admire Adele Block-Bauer as art appreciator and support, but Wilke as well as Weisberg are no longer like Bauer-Bloch the subject of the art but both are makers of the art. Both artists are using arts to explore their exile from dominating male traditions of art, to show how they are taking an exodus from those alienating traditions, and are entering into a new land where they empower themselves as artists.

Ruth Weisberg at Jack Rutberg Gallery, 357 N. Labrea thru May 31, 10-5 Tuesday=Sat

Hannah Wilke at Solway-Jones, 5377 Wilshire Blvd. Tuesday-Saturday 11-6 thru May 20

5 Klimt paintings from the Bloch-Baur collection, Los Angeles County Musuem of Art, thru June 20, 5905 Wilshire, M, Tu, Th noon-8 Fri noon-9 (Friday after 5 free), Sat & Sun 11-8 pm

Totems to Turqouise: Native American Jewelry Arts of the Northwest and Southwest through August 20, Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Waym, LA Tues-Wed, Fr,-Sun 10-5 Thurs 10-8

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