Art impressions

It was a strange weekend, filled with hope and dread as sad news kept rolling in about the Metrolink crash, David Foster Wallace's suicide, Damien Hirst's unprecedented art auction and new financial turmoil triggered by Lehman Brothers efforts to stave off bankruptcy.

But I come from a family whose motto is "when the going gets tough, the tough draws strength from beauty." So I spent the weekend looking at art. On Saturday, I ventured over to the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades for a lecture by a Brit with two last names who traveled across the continent to share stories about a venerable organization of classical antiquities collectors, called the Society of the Dilettanti, the subject of a new exhibit at the Villa. One hundred or so Angeleno Anglophiles crowded into the auditorium to hear Charles Sebag-Montefiore's illustrated lecture about the society's origins as a dining club for eighteenth century aristocrats with an enthusiasm for classical archeology and its evolving role as a driving force behind the rise of neoclassicism in the 19th century. After the lecture, he led a tour of the exhibit itself, twenty minutes before the Villa closed for the day. I could tell he was an aristocrat by the way he blithely ignored the pointed announcements of museum guards that the "Villa will close in 5 minutes." His audience remained rooted to the spot, filling a long, dark gallery populated by erotic figurines as Mr. Sebag-Montefiore pointed out bawdy 18th century cartoons from his own collection.

"The Villa will close in 5 minutes" boomed another guard eight minutes later. They were making me nervous so I hurried out into the gardens, stopping to admire a pomegranate tree heavy with fruit. I'd never seen pomegranate growing before. I hurried on to collect my car and join the long line of autos snaking down the cypress-lined driveway to the sea at PCH.

I joined a different group of art connoisseurs at the Pasadena Museum of California Art on Sunday. The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts hosted a reception there to introduce the recipient of the 2007 William H. Johnson Prize, L.A. based artist Rodney McMillian. Like the Dilettanti, the Johnson Foundation has an interest in preservation and wields a bit of influence in contemporary art circles. But this foundation provides resources for emerging African American artists, gifting a new recipient with a $25,000 prize each year. After enjoying drinks and Kai European Catering's exotic appetizers served on porcelain spoons (offered by even yummier waiters) on the museum's terrace, we ambled down to the exhibit gallery to view a retrospective exhibit of works by Kori Newkirk, recipient of the 2004 William H. Johnson Prize. It was nice to see a former recipient build his career and fulfill the promise the foundation had spotted earlier. Surrounded by Mr. Newkirk's wall hangings fabricated from beaded strands of braided hair and a wall-sized image of a limousine created using hair pomade, it occurred to me that I had happened upon strange fruit as rare and special as the pomegranate at the Getty Villa: a successful mid career artist nurtured early by patrons in Los Angeles.

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