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On the Scene--The Year That Wasn't

December 27, 1987|WILLIAM WILSON

Well, of course nothing happened. What could we expect from poor old 1987 after the giddy Olympic year of '84 and L.A.'s bar mitzvah as an art center in '86? Everybody was pooped after the opening of Arata Isozaki's exquisitely witty Neo-Exotic downtown Museum of Contemporary Art, fatigued from christening Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer's Deco-Babylonian Robert O. Anderson Building, the new home to the art of our time at the County Museum of Art. The world came to "Whoopee!" and went away impressed with L.A.'s shiny new cultural appurtenances. After all that, everybody needed 1987 as a year of well-deserved schlepping around the cultural kitchen in robe and slippers and spending a long Sunday morning reading fat newspapers in a big leather chair.

"Excuse me. Sorry to interrupt, but we all must go to the shelter. The radio says there is a tornado coming down Wilshire Boulevard."

(Offstage sounds of roaring winds, sirens and general confusion, which gradually subside.)

"Sorry. It turned out it wasn't a tornado anyway. It was a blizzard. The palm fronds are covered with snow and the kids are skating on the swimming pool. Where were we?"

Oh, right. Nothing changed. This was especially noticeable at the Museum of Contemporary Art. After igniting anticipatory excitement, the museum decided to leave its panoramic but befuddled inaugural exhibition, "Individuals," up all year. This was OK for first-time visitors catching up with the opening, but gung-ho aficionados felt that MOCA lost steam by not having more activity. Not that they didn't try. Unfortunately, a series of mid-size solo exhibitions devoted to currently fashionable artists like David Salle and Donald Sultan tended to find their art incapable of filling our minds, much less the vast spaces of MOCA's Temporary Contemporary satellite.

Only a sadist would flagellate the museum for taking time to regroup after the protean effort of getting the operation rolling, but the net result is that after a year the character of the place is still fuzzy. That it is being run by a serious and responsible bunch became clearer when they raised some $5 million to finish paying for an $11-million core collection purchased from Count Panza of Milan. Speaking of Panza, events made it disappointingly clear that local efforts to buy the rest of his big collection of Minimalist and Conceptual art are in terminal fizzle and the work will go elsewhere.

"What? Desolate to interrupt again but look at the time. Bunch of errands to run on the way home. Have to get off the Hollywood Freeway to look at the new Musee D'Orsay. That's at Vermont, I think. Then a stop at the Safeway for bread and a nip over to the new Turner wing at the Tate, which is now somewhere around Beverly and Fairfax. A quick bite and off to that auction at Sotheby's, where they're selling a Van Gogh that's supposed to go for $50 million or so. Goghing, Goghing, Goghn. Look up the address in the Yellow Pages. Somewhere in the Valley." (Sound effects up, clock ticking against hurry-up music like "London Again.")

Well, all right, something did change. The climate and landscape of art changed irrevocably in L.A. Sure, suave new galleries opened in Santa Monica, and La Brea Avenue's gallery row expanded, but the real difference was larger, more crucial and more atmospheric. 1987 became the first year in which the cultural borders between this town and the rest of the world were erased. Just as the world of finance now lives in a global economy, the galaxy of Los Angeles' museums, galleries, artists and collectors is now fused with its counterparts in the rest of the world.

Time was that when an L.A. artnik traveled to foreign art ports, the natives were touched that he had come such a long way to see their treasures but, after all, the aborigine had to do something to get a little Kultur. This year it was different. "Oh, here is a chap from that town where so much is happening. Tell us about it. Is the Getty really going to buy all the art in England? How does it feel to be so rich? We hear that San Francisco is about to fling itself off the Bay Bridge in despair."

A lot of such talk is society twaddle forgetful of the aspects of art that really count, but it does signal a broad perception that what happens here now ripples to the rest of the world and what happens there registers on our litmus paper. There is a certain glow in realizing you are a big kid now, but it's no reason to get uppity. When Andy Warhol died untimely in New York, he died just as absurdly here.

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