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LACMA TURNS ON


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face forever.


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face forever.

originally published: March, 2008

LACMA TURNS ON

The proud-parent movie stars were there en masse for the latest Los Angeles Christening (Christina Aguilera, Nicole Richie, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise et al.). The plastic-wrapped Christo building, north toward Park La Brea was most impressive, along with Richard Serra's ''Band'' which takes up both rooms of the ground-level galleries and Chris Burden's garden of lamp-posts installation outside.

The escalator takes you to the third floor first. Entering through the Andy Warhol hallway, I couldn't get that botched presidential campaign line: ''The house that Ronald Regan built...'' out of my head as I roamed the central gallery display of Jeffrey Koons' greatest hits: Michael Jackson and Bubbles the Chimp, Madonna and Child, giant balloon animal dog plus some Popism-kitsch silk screens featuring the Incredible Hulk. Nearby is the best of Cindy Sherman's room with all of her artworld referencing self-portraits you've seen in person or in Artform. Or both. (Who can remember?) The hallway on the opposite end of Warhol Hall highlights Baldessari's sarcastic but prescient text[e] paintings that remind the viewer that our perception is based upon prior knowledge of historical paintings in museums. And therein lies the problem with how this selection from the vast the Broad Collection is curated: The giddy '80s commentary art of the Regan Era does not transcend the cynical confidence that was fueled by the influx of corporate investors and collectors like Citigroup, Eli Broad and Steve Wynn. Unlike Warhol, who sincerely felt that pleasing his patrons and making money was part of his art, Koons treats the rich art patron and viewer as children who can't discern real art without an arbiter of taste telling them to like it.

The Barbara Kruger three-story commissioned mural that frames the Great Glass Elevator shaft features the cheery Orwell quote: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face forever." Waiting for five minutes with the Koons' work in your peripheral view maintains the time-warp aesthetic of the era of conspicuous consumption. The typeface, plus Kruger's trademark black-and-white-and-red- all-over design style brings back the Proustian migraine of music packaging of that time too. David Byrne appropriated her look for ''True Stories'' and ''Stop Making Sense'' --as well as David Hockney's aerial photo collage technique for previous rock album art.

Despite the shoulder-padded Regan/Thatcher throwbacks, there is fine cross-section of Damian Hurst. From his shark-in-formaldehyde period lamb, gorgeous butterfly and kitchen glass mosaics, giant spinning spin art, brain vivisection painting and animatronic botanist installation, he seems to be the only superstar artist with many exciting phases ahead of him. (Alas, Basquiat est mort.) Ellsworth Kelly has his own room of his hard-edged and colorfield works, but not his most most famous. There are some Rauschenberg combines, appropriately, next to a few Jasper Johns flags and assemblages. Seeing so many legendary works and lesser known ones by only the most world-famous modern artists at once is a bit of a shock of the old. Like having the Pompidou Center dropped onto the Tar Pits (minus the air conditioning tubes and Max Ernst). The $56,000,000 Renzo Piano edifice--using travertine blocks and red-painted girders--navigates an appropriate design between the Getty Center photography museum and a high-end Target store.

Just a few weeks ago, Broad changed his mind about donating his art collection to LACMA so that it can be loaned out and continuously displayed. What a big letdown for some who were hoping to have something like a Guggenheim in L.A. Better to have the works circulated in varied contexts around the world than to have them on permanent display here. As with his change of plans when Broad was unable to commandeer the Los Angeles public schools with Mayor Villaraigosa in a labor reform coup, it shows that the life of a post-modern real estate robber baron/philanthropist is no cakewalk.

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