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December 13, 2009

Reviews by Christopher Knight (C.K.), Holly Myers (H.M.) and Leah Ollman (L.O.). Compiled by Grace Krilanovich.

Critics' Choices

The Chimaera of Arezzo A Chimaera fuses the body of a fire-breathing lion with a coiling serpent in place of its tail; for good measure, a horned goat emerges from the lion's back. Altogether this chomping, hissing, butting flamethrower is a mythological hybrid as frighteningly improbable as something from "Alien" in the movies or a Blue Dog Democrat in Congress. The minute you see the 2,400-year-old Chimaera of Arezzo you'll know immediately why the magnificent bronze is regarded as a textbook work of art (C.K.). Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. Thu.-Mon., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tue.-Wed.; ends Feb. 8. (310) 440-7300.

Divine Demons: Wrathful Deities in Buddhist Art When one thinks of Buddhist art, one tends to conjure up images of tranquility and bliss. This show presents a different picture, conjuring up a panoply of teeth-baring, arm-waving, serpent-stomping creatures that are there to step in when celestial composure is not enough (H.M.). Norton Simon Museum of Art, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Mon., Wed.-Thu., Sat.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.; Fri., noon-9 p.m.; closed Tue.; ends March 8. (626) 449-6840.

Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield This breathtaking exhibition, organized by artist Robert Gober, demonstrates the extraordinary power Burchfield (1893-1967) was able to coax forth from the watercolor medium. A sheet of paper emerges as a membrane stretched between the outer world of nature and the inner world of the artist's emotional life. Think of it as an aesthetic skin, separating different domains that are both in constant flux. His story as an artist is the lifelong odyssey of reconciling the two. Burchfield gave the spiritual intuitions of 19th century American transcendentalism a Modernist reverberation (C.K.). Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Tue.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Jan. 3. (310) 443-7000.

Beloved Daughters: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh Sheikh's two most recent projects tell of indignity but show only beauty. While most socially concerned photographers advocate for justice by illustrating injustice, Sheikh delivers bitter truths in text but fills his frames with gorgeous portraits and evocative sense impressions. His explorations of the impact of traditional social mores on women in India documents a lifecycle of inequities, but Sheikh never depicts women as victims. The complexity of their fate, as rendered in words, is complemented poignantly by the simple visual evidence of their humanity (L.O.). Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego. Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; ends Jan. 31. (619) 238-7559.

Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years This is not just a promotional treasure-house show of about 500 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos and installations by more than 200 international artists in MOCA's remarkable permanent collection. Installed chronologically, it also tells a story -- although one that's rarely heard. The postwar rise of American art is paired with the simultaneous rise of Los Angeles, from shallow backwater to cultural powerhouse. At the Grand Avenue building, which spans 1939 to 1979, the distinctive emergence of a mature L.A. art is embedded within the larger postwar prominence of the United States, artistically dominated by New York. At the Geffen -- the story picks up in the year MOCA was born. Tying the Geffen start-date to MOCA's own arrival on the scene audaciously asserts the museum's instrumental role in the city's art-life. The two-for-one double-header amply testifies why MOCA matters (C.K.). Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), 250 S. Grand Ave., L.A.; and Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., L.A. Mon. and Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; closed Tue.-Wed.; ends May 3. (213) 626-6222.


Irving Penn: Small Trades Three important 20th century photographers made pictorial catalogs of working-class men and women. Eugene Atget and August Sander can partly be seen as erecting an image of enlightened humanism during a period deeply shadowed by the life-shattering brutalities of World War I. Irving Penn, a quintessential American in Paris after World War II, is considerably different. His great skill is not in peeling away outer layers to show us the person hidden within. After all he's a fashion photographer par excellence. His workers model. Emphasizing aesthetics within ordinariness, their surfaces thrum with meaning (C.K.). Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A. Tue.-Fri. and Sun., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Jan. 10. (310) 440-7300.

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