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'Individuals' Comes to End of Purposeful Year at MOCA

December 13, 1987|ZAN DUBIN

There were those who thought--and still think--that a year's run for the Museum of Contemporary Art's inaugural show was about nine months too long.

But, even as that year ends next month, some still think 365 days for "Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, 1945-86," made sense.

"I know it's unusual for a museum exhibit to be that long," says Howard Singerman, an art historian who edited the exhibition's tome-like catalogue. "At the same time, it's art education; it's allowing a community that has not had (access to) major works from the postwar years to see them and to study them. Artists in New York get to go to the Museum of Modern Art every week for years and sit in front of de Kooning or Pollock. That opportunity has not been available in L.A."

Concluding Jan. 10, "Individuals" comprises about 430 works by 81 European and American artists displayed at MOCA's permanent Grand Avenue site and its Temporary Contemporary space. Its artist roster includes John Baldessari, Willem de Kooning, Eric Fischl, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, Louise Nevelson, Frank Stella, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg.

The exhibition, particularly because of its yearlong stint, has indeed helped educate the public, Singerman says. A leader of tours through the show, he notes that he often hears the query "But is it art?" in response to the neon tubes of Dan Flavin, rough steel slabs by Richard Serra or paintings that look like empty white canvases by Robert Ryman, for example.

"The work does take a lot of looking and understanding on the part of viewers; it is difficult," Singerman says. "But I'd like to think that viewers who pay attention, who are open, will be rewarded. I've also discovered that because some works look so unlike art altogether (such as entire rooms by Douglas Wheeler filled only with ultraviolet light) that people are more open to them. When people don't have the context of a Mona Lisa to compare something to, they are more able to allow the works to have an effect on them."

As for his own edification, repeated treks through the exhibit have made him aware of "the environmental nature of all works of contemporary art."

"We know that, for instance, Wheeler's work is environmental--he makes rooms--but this exhibition has made it clear that the paintings of Jasper Johns or Ellsworth Kelly or Richard Diebenkorn also conform to their environments . . . if you hang works badly, they lose power. But when works are placed in a room correctly, the result can be greater than the sum of the parts."

"Individuals" has also brought greater public attention to California artists, says Singerman, who teaches contemporary art at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

By including younger and older Los Angeles-based artists, the exhibition "has altered the way mainstream art history is constructed," he says, "so that California artists, such as Sam Francis, Ed Moses, Alexis Smith and Mike Kelley belong in a discussion of art made since 1945."

RECENT ACQUISITIONS: A portrait by a 17th-Century artist named official painter to Queen Marie de Medicis is one of three artworks recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

"Portrait of Antoine Singlin," circa 1640, exemplifies the flair for stark and imposing simplicity of Philippe de Champaigne, a Flemish artist. Singlin, a leader of the Jansenist religious movement, confronts the viewer with an open and forthright gaze, reflecting the virtues he himself embodied.

"The Sluice," a work by Jacob van Ruisdael, one of the greatest Dutch landscape painters of the 17th Century, has also recently been added to the museum's permanent holdings. This painting, circa 1670, depicts a sluice used by Dutch farmers to regulate water levels and irrigate farmland.

Increasing its noted illuminated manuscript collection, the Getty has acquired a copy of "La Passion de Nostre Seigneur Iheusus Crist" ("The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ"), a religious narrative written for private devotional use.

The manuscript was illuminated in Lyons, circa 1480-1490, by the Master of Guillaume Lambert (and his workshop), the most important illuminator in Lyons in the last quarter of the 15th Century. It was presumably written by Jean Gerson, an influential theologian.

All three works are currently on view at the Getty.

PEOPLE: Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the modernistic Georges Pompidou Cultural Center in Paris, has been chosen after an 18-month search to create a new building for Newport Harbor Art Museum, one which will expand the museum's size by about four times.

Piano, who also designed the understated edifice for the Menil Collection in Houston, will begin work on the project in January. The new museum will be on a 10-acre lot at Pacific Coast Highway and MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach, less than a mile from the museum's current site.

Ground-breaking for the edifice is scheduled to begin in 1989 with operation slated to start by 1991, a museum spokeswoman said.

PUBLIC ART: Los Angeles-based artist Guy Dill has completed a massive geometric sculpture for the front of a commercial high-rise in El Segundo.

"Egalmah, The Great Palace," is a concrete sculpture that looks somewhat like it was constructed from colorful children's building blocks, encircles the building's one-acre plaza.

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