Spring arts preview: Visual art

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A look ahead at the spring season in visual art.

‘David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy’

With perhaps the best title of any exhibition in recent memory, this reconsiders the career of America’s first great post-World War II sculptor. Born and raised in the Midwest, Smith (1906-65) started as a painter. Even after he switched to three dimensions, he considered his sculpture in painterly terms. He worked in a variety of abstract styles, all of which will be represented in this thorough overview of his development.

But special emphasis will go to his geometric abstraction — the “cubes” of the show’s title. And the “anarchy”? Determined not to lose his working-class roots, Smith would have nothing to do with the elegant bronze-casting of classical metal sculpture. Instead, he happily installed an anvil and forge in his studio, hammering out a distinctly individual vision.


Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Closed Wednesdays. $10-$15.

‘Art in the Streets’
Street art, which often used to be called graffiti before that term got a bad name, given its association with vandalism and urban blight, has moved into the mainstream in recent years. Much credit goes to big-ticket artists like the anonymous Brit, Banksy, whose documentary film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” was nominated this year for an Academy Award, and the ambitious Angeleno Shepard Fairey, whose “Hope” poster of Barack Obama became an icon of the 2008 presidential campaign.

MOCA’s show, organized by Director Jeffrey Deitch and guest curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose, will consider a much larger span. The history will begin in the 1970s and concentrate on several cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, London and São Paulo, Brazil, where street art has flourished in many distinctive guises. Work by about 30 artists, some but not all untrained and working outside an art world establishment, will be surveyed.

Museum of Contemporary Art, the Geffen Contemporary, 152 North Central Ave., L.A. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. $5-$10.

‘Paris: Life and Luxury’

In the 18th century, Europe was Paris, and Paris was Europe. The rococo-era city held a commanding position, stylistically and socially, on the international stage as something to be admired and emulated in capitals across the continent. This show means to tease out how and why, with works grouped in installations to suggest the chronology of a single day, from morning to night.

For the first time, the Getty will build a major temporary exhibition (it travels to Houston in the fall) around its incomparable permanent collection of French decorative arts — furniture, tapestries, clocks, lighting fixtures and other applied arts — mixed together with paintings and sculptures. About half the 160 works will be loans from 26 museums and private collections around the world.

J. Paul Getty Museum. 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A. Closed Mondays. $15 per car.

‘Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective’

A cult figure since his untimely death at 54 in 1988, Paul Thek is best known (among those who know of him) for two things: peculiar sculptures of raw meat, mostly made of painted chunks of plastic or wax, which have the presence of secular odes to the mortality of the flesh (one is displayed inside an Andy Warhol Brillo box, tipped on its side); and “The Tomb — Death of a Hippie,” a full-size body cast laid out in a pink pyramid, a lost work known today only from photographs.
In fact, much of Thek’s work has been lost, since he was a pioneer of installation art in the late 1960s and early 1970s who threw everything away when the show was over. Furthermore, most of those installations were made in Europe, where the Brooklyn-born artist moved for nearly a decade starting in 1967. This traveling retrospective, his first in the United States, will introduce the artist to many people.

UCLA Hammer Museum. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Closed Mondays and Thursdays. $5-$10.

‘Tim Burton’
A hit when it had its premiere two years ago at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the retrospective of hundreds of drawings dating from the Burbank-born filmmaker’s teenage years to the present and including paintings, sculptures, photographs and some short films, wowed adoring fans of “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.” But it did not impress many art critics. “Monotonous,” said one. “Impressive stuff for a teenager,” said another.

Still, with 810,000 visitors at MOMA — third only to earlier shows of Picasso and Matisse in the museum’s attendance record books — the Burton extravaganza is a veritable pop culture phenomenon. LACMA has had its troubles with the film community, having canceled and then reinstated and finally left in some limbo its long-running movie series, and this show seems designed to help shore up the museum’s cinematic reputation. A cash infusion at the box office is also plainly expected, since it’s being offered as a promotion for new memberships.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Closed Wednesdays. $10-$15.


Spring arts preview: Architecture

Spring arts preview: Theater

Spring arts preview: Classical music

Spring arts preview: Performance and dance

Spring arts preview: Jazz

William Leavitt: Multi-tasker at heart

--Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times art critic