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Summer Art : Coping With Those Ol' Art Summer Blues

June 09, 1985|WILLIAM WILSON

Every day the weather forecast is the same. Cool, overcast mornings usher in endless sunny afternoons. If you drive West as late as 7 o'clock the windshield is still a sheet of blinding reflection. College campuses are as laid back as fetes champetre and working folk look wistfully at glossy magazine ads featuring blue water and green woods. What can it all mean other than that summer is once again acumin in lhude sing cuckoo.

The art crowd grows apprehensive. It knows the college galleries are packing up for furlough, many a commercial showplace will somnambulate through the season and that this--the year after the Olympic Arts Festival--is unlikely to produce the same attempts at magnificence that materialized (and sometimes fizzled) in '84.

What to do? What to do?

As summers are blissfully similar, so is advice about how the art devotee copes with them. Probably the single most appropriate activity, art's equivalent of picnics on the grass, are visits to permanent collections. There art many sensible reasons to pursue this line of pleasure. The most persuasive is that three-fourths of L.A.'s most prominent museums emphasize permanent collections over changing exhibitions.

The Getty, Huntington and Simon museums claim fame for what is always there (although at the Simon rarely in the same place). So go and browse, it's cool and quiet especially if you are shrewd enough to avoid rubes and tourists trooping by the masterpieces.

You have seen the Getty Bronze. Try the museum's decorative art collections that range from craftsmanship made classic to Baroque gone bonkers. You have seen Pinky and Blueboy. Probe the delicate charms of the Huntington's portrait miniatures. The swath of European Old Master art in the Simon Museum is legendary. It tends to distract people from Southeast Asian galleries, which include such treasures as a dancing Nataraja said to be the best of its kind in the known world.

Well, all right, we all crave new experience, if not novelty. So what about that?

There seems to be no competition for the title of Summer Blockbuster Treasures Extravaganza. The single twinkling contender is the County Museum of Art's "The Treasury of San Marco Venice" which will present 50 Medieval objects from the fabled Queen of the Adriatic July 3-Sept. 8.

The show--sponsored by Olivetti--arrives dripping prestige from such stops as Paris' Grand Palais, the British Museum, London and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It includes crowns, chalices, reliquaries and the other appurtenances that marked medieval Venice as the cosmopolitan crossroads of the world, joining European elegance to the exoticism of Byzantium, Islam and the Orient. It's the kind of encrusted art that makes us feel we're walking around in a fairy tale. (Well-organized folks will want to know that tickets go on sale next Saturday. See Art News for details.)

Having preserved our cultural cachet with one potentially potent grandiosity, we can turn to matters less prepossessing but just as serious, such as LACMA's presentation of the American 19th-Century landscape painter, John Frederick Kensett (July 11-Sept. 8.) The artist is hardly a household name, but he waxed prominent in recent years with the general discovery of the the Luminist school. Kensett (1816-1872) started out as a Romantic identified with the transcendentalism of the Hudson River artists. This retrospective of about 50 works will show his growth into the smooth, almost mystically detached hyper-realism of fellow Luminists like Fitz-Hugh Lane. The show may be a bit of a sleeper.

As much can be surmised about the Santa Barbara Museum of Art's revivalist look at the art of Rockwell Kent (June 28-Sept. 1). In his heyday in the '20s and '30s, Kent's wood-engraved illustrations were among the most popular and influential in the land. But they dated badly and today his combination of prissy precision and heroic macho tends to attract appreciation mainly as a camp.

SBMA museum director Richard West thinks that image of Kent is wrong in that it ignores his contribution as a painter. As a corrective, his exhibition will present 70 pictures spanning Kent's long life (1882-1971). Historians, prepare to revise your texts.

What is that grumbling out there in the audience? Probably the avatars of special artistic categories wanting sustenance for particular passions.

Well, champions of primitive art will be happy to be reminded of a landmark exhibition of pottery by vanished Indians of New Mexico just opened at the Southwest Museum. Titled "Mimbres Pottery; Ancient Art of the American Southwest" the survey of 100 vessels continues to July 28.

Next on the tribal agenda comes the acclaimed "Te Maori," an epic survey of the sometimes massive carvings made by native New Zealanders. With its distinctive combinations of Polynesian muscular volumes and Oriental surface elaboration, it will turn up July 1-Dec. 1 at San Francisco's M.H. de Young Museum.

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