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November 22, 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, so it is capable of guarding the rear flank; 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, the first time the famous Etruscan sculpture has traveled to the U.S., 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 -- of finding the means by which to bring them into harmony or its semblance. 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.


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.

The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis Robert Crumb spent nearly five years thinking about and drawing 206 sheets to illuminate the first book of the Old Testament inside rectilinear panels whose wavy contours frame events with nervous visual energy. Engaging a master of the profane to tell a sacred story could have proven to be a wincing gimmick, but Crumb's too good an artist for that. He's not a believer in the divinity of the Bible's authorship, and that sense of human origins is conveyed by his distinctive drawing style. The invigorating result is the restoration of historical literary and artistic power to a world-changing narrative (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 Feb. 7. (310) 443-7000.

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