Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images
(Exhibition design is by John Baldessari)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Until March 4th, 2007
Ren?© Magritte is the pipesmoker. That's possibly how you know him best, from 'La trahison des images' (the tragedy of images) Magritte's famous image of The Pipe coupled with the expression, Ceci n'est pas une pipe. This is not a pipe.
Officially, one of the eight great Belgians of all time, and of course in deference to the British Parlour Game that I have never played, Name Five Famous Belgians, besides Magritte, here are more than six, Hercule Poirot, The Smurfs, Audrey Hepburn, Jean Claude VanDamme, Dr Evil, Kim Clijsters oh and the guy who invented french fries but probably didn't call them that at the outset.
The show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, is built around the pipe painting and many other notable items, while drawing together many iconic 20th Century pieces, from a cavalcade of notables, either overtly or inadvertently influenced by the surrealist king. LACMA's curators on this occasion have done a fab job of finding the artists who managed to give so much more back than they took from Magritte and you can't ask for more. There's all sorts of stuff here, from obvious record album covers to Jeff Koons Silver Locomotive and his stainless steel bunny and a great and fantastic helping of items from Ed Ruscha, reminding us once more, amongst a blue ribbon array of the C20th finest, just how brilliant fantastic Ruscha is. The premise and the entire show is a delightfukk, I mean, delightful from top to toe - particularly around the toe... beginning with moment you step onto the blue, signature fluffy cloud carpet which covers the entire exhibition floor - right there Magritte meets the Simpsons.
Magritte's work is perhaps so well known because it is at once such provocative fun and totally accessible. There were tons of children at the show on a Sunday afternoon. Who cannot even love Magritte's so-called crap period of painting, the vache ('cow') period, when he painted his worst and threw his career into jeopardy. Ahhh , that crowd with the artistic temperament, no one ever laughs anymore. It's easy to consider him a clever dick intellectual who created with an artisan's technique to make a clever dick point, but the Vache stuff in particular is just like great outsider art that seems more contemporary now than ever that we have so many crap artists.
By the way, if the proposed Jeff Koons' 161 feet tall, dangling working smoking locomotive international landmark statement that is planned for the front of the new Renzo Piano LACMA happens, (Casey Jones has his lawyers ready should the funding come through) will I be happy? It looks like crap on paper, not Hornby Good. Not as cheery as Koons' great topiary puppy outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao nor nearly as reprehensible as the London Eye. A spectacle for the sake of it. Sure I'm as far down with that as any angst-ridden middle-aged hipster. But a train. Anything would be better.
Meanwhile from the other side of town, from what would've been a simple low rent space just ten years ago, my friend Cecilia calls and wonders whether I would like to come over and see the most recent appropriation of Magritte's pipe the 'this is not a crackpipe' version. Oh how that news made me want to slash my wrists. It made me laugh then it made me want to slash my wrists. How I wished Ren?© wasn't dead. Passing up her invitation I turned right and headed up La Cienega to the Bed Bath & Beyond in the Beverley Centre and picked up a beautiful piece of Henckel kitchen cutlery so heavy, scary and imposing that I wondered how people could be allowed to acquire such a thing without a license.