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Where you should be in 2003

January 02, 2003|Christopher Knight

"Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue." (Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Jan. 19-April 13). Without red, green and blue, there would be no TV. Equally horrifying, neither would there be "Red Green Blue," one of the most important paintings in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. The 1963 masterpiece by American artist Ellsworth Kelly is the pivot of a show that examines a turning point in the Abstract painter's important career.

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"Bill Viola: The Passions." (J. Paul Getty Museum, L.A., Jan. 28-April 27).

Tired of cerebral, ironic, cool or know-it-all art? L.A.'s Bill Viola, a pioneer video artist, reinvents the medieval representation of the Passions for a secular age, employing high technology to emotionally expressive ends. Descriptions in the Gospels of Christ's suffering during the crucifixion inspired medieval and Renaissance artists, and their paintings in turn inspired Viola to examine images of extreme, compelling emotion. Only the second exhibition of contemporary art organized by the Getty, Viola's show will travel to London's National Gallery and to Munich's State Picture Gallery.

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"Lucian Freud."(Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A., Feb. 9-May 25). Lucian Freud, grandson of the founder of psychoanalysis, vaguely annoyed the British public last year when he unveiled a pinched portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with a face like shepherd's pie. Touted by some as Britain's greatest living painter, Freud, born in 1922, has made a career of attempting to revive portraiture and the nude as contemporary subjects. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the only American venue for the European retrospective, will present 110 paintings, drawings and prints.

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"A Saint in the City: Sufi Art of Urban Senegal." (UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Westwood, Feb. 9-July 27). Sheikh Amadou Bamba (1853-1927), the spiritual leader of 4 million Muslims in Senegal, was a poet and mystic whose image today is as common in Dakar as the Virgin of Guadalupe's is in Tijuana. Portraits of the Mouride Sufi mystic, as well as murals, signs, calligraphy, textiles and paintings by contemporary artists, will elucidate the religion, which is grounded in beliefs about the dignity of work. There's never been a major show of Senegalese art in the U.S. before, so this one ought to be fresh and revealing.

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"The Grandeur of Viceregal Mexico: Treasures From the Museo Franz Mayer." (San Diego Museum of Art, March 8-May 18). One of the great museums of Mexico City, the Museo Franz Meyer is rich in what used to be called Colonial art and is coming to be known as the art of the Viceregal period, the centuries between the fall of the Aztecs and Mexican independence. The heady blend of Mesoamerican and European traditions is often flavored with an Asian aspect, thanks to the flourishing trade lines that began in Manila, passed through Mexico and arrived in Spain. Meyer (1882-1975), a German stockbroker, amassed a dazzling collection during a time when few cared. It has never before left Mexico.

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"The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353." (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 13-July 27). Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, eastern Turkey, southern Russia -- you might have been reading about the region in the papers lately. Eight hundred years ago the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan was interested too -- not because of their oil reserves but because he was an acquisitive kind of guy and his empire was vast. His descendants in that area helped shape a new visual language, which will be chronicled in some 200 illustrated manuscripts, ceramics, textiles, jewelry and other decorative arts in metal, stone and wood.

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"Old Masters, Impressionists and Moderns: French Masterworks From the State Pushkin Museum, Moscow." (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 27-Oct. 13). Everybody knows of the great Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow is a less heralded sibling. Its collections, which range from Egyptian statues to early Modern art, are especially strong in French painting since Nicolas Poussin. Many works by Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse hung in Moscow's old Museum of the New Western Art, but they were moved to the Pushkin in 1948. Why? Every good Cold War capital needed a great encyclopedic art museum, symbol of cultural sophistication and modern superiority.

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