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From 18th Century Europeans to Modern Mexicans

September 15, 2002|CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT

The fall art season blasts out of the gate fast this year, with most of the major museum exhibitions having opened in the past week. A few smaller but still provocative undertakings will turn up later.

At the J. Paul Getty Museum, "Greuze the Draftsman" (through Dec. 1) assembles 70 drawings from the Louvre, the Hermitage and other public and private collections internationally for the first such show devoted to Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). While not well-known today, the Frenchman was a favorite of Diderot and other philosophers of his day, for paintings with distinct moral lessons. ("The Family Bible Reading" wowed 'em at the Paris Salon in 1755.) His career crashed with the revolution, but in the past few decades a scholarly cottage industry has gown up around the study of Greuze's work.

Another 18th century painter, Britain's fashionable portraitist George Romney (1734-1802), occupies center stage at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (today through Dec. 1). Once a rival to Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough for the favors of London's aristocratic clientele, Romney has long been eclipsed in reputation by both. The subtitle of the large survey at the Huntington tells the tale: "British Art's Forgotten Genius."

The liveliest exhibition of the season will likely be "Axis Mexico: Common Objects and Cosmopolitan Actions," opening this weekend at the San Diego Museum of Art (through March 9). A survey of 19 artists younger than 45, most of whom work in Mexico City, the show will juxtapose established mid-career talents such as Silvia Gruner, Francis Alys and Ruben Ortiz Torres with notable emerging artists, including Eduardo Abaroa, Daniella Rossell and Santiago Sierra. Many have shown in Los Angeles during the past decade, but this is the first overview since "The Perennial Illusion of a Vulnerable Principle: Another Mexican Art" shook things up at Art Center College of Design in 1991.

The Museum of Contemporary Art offers a 25-year survey of German artist Thomas Struth, who studied in Dusseldorf with the hugely influential Gerhard Richter and Bernd and Hilla Becher (today through Jan 5). Struth catalogs people and places in large-format photographs that self-consciously call attention to the activity of viewing images--a distinctly modern phenomenon that culminates in his striking series of people in museums looking at art.

Also on the photography scene: a survey at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Thursday-Jan. 5) of local artist and teacher Donald Blumberg, who first attracted attention as a street photographer in the 1960s. The new Pasadena Museum of California Art presents a traveling show of greatest hits: "Capturing Light: Masterpieces of California Photography, 1850-2000" (opening Saturday).

Later, three L.A. artists have solo shows: Dave Muller, who hand-renders drawings of mass-produced art announcements, is at UCLA Hammer Museum (Oct. 6-Jan. 5); Sam Durant, whose sculptures and installations put art and pop culture into a conceptual Mixmaster, is at MOCA (Oct. 13-Jan. 19); and Tom Knechtel, whose paintings are the elaborate fables of a confirmed sensualist, is at Otis College's Ben Maltz Gallery (Nov. 9-Feb. 15).

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Christopher Knight is The Times' art critic.

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