ART

Martin Kersels:

Heavyweight Champion

That title may be the perfect tongue-in-cheek label for this retrospective of a 6-foot, 7-inch, 350-pound artist who presents himself as a hilariously creative lummox. A fan of Buster Keaton and a student of Paul McCarthy and Chris Burden, Kersels explores the absurdities and frustrations of human existence in performances, sculptures and photographs. The Los Angeles artist has made large photos of himself stumbling, falling and getting smacked around, literally throwing himself into his work. His mechanized sculptures include a prosthetic leg that kicks a wall in explosions of pent-up tension. The exhibition will survey Kersels' career in 33 works from 1994 to 2007. Among promised highlights are two installations with a domestic edge. "Dionysian Stage" is an enormous willow-branch nest, stuffed with household objects, that spins like a disco ball. In "Rickety," furniture and other objects are compressed under a platform, as if some great force had flattened them.

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Sept. 13-Dec. 13, www.smmoa.org

Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964

Widely revered as a seeker of truth in quiet paintings of ordinary objects -- and occasionally dismissed as a one-note artist -- Morandi will get a full-dress retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This first complete survey of the Italian artist's work to appear in the U.S. will track his career in 110 paintings, watercolors and etchings. A native of Bologna, Morandi won prizes in prestigious international exhibitions but shunned the press. His reclusive nature and penchant for painting the same subjects over and over have confined him to the margins of Modern art history. The exhibition will champion him as an important precursor to Minimalism who experimented with Cubism and Futurism and made "metaphysical" paintings inspired by the Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico before developing the classical still lifes that epitomize his mature style.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sept. 16-Dec. 14, www.moma.org

Martin Kippenberger: Problem Perspective

Kippenberger was an infamous German prankster who died shockingly young -- he was 44 -- of liver cancer in 1997, but not before he had puzzled audiences, inspired a raft of younger artists and emerged as an apparent post-Pop successor to his great sardonic countryman, Sigmar Polke. In the paintings, sculptures, installations and works on paper gathered for this retrospective, he wrestled with the knotty question of what it meant to be an artist in a world where the idea of originality was in doubt, art market manipulation had become a dominant force, and a cult of personality had substituted the buffoonery of public celebrity for the intimacy of private biography. By the time he was emerging, circa 1980, the establishment had swallowed whole the once-radical idea of an avant-garde. An artist's social role was anybody's guess. Kippenberger's diverse art, rather like Jonah idling in the whale's smelly belly, contemplates the consequences. Sometimes it seems like a revelation and sometimes like a fraud. His friend the painter Albert Oehlen perhaps put the conflicted situation best: "Since an artist is open in any case to the suspicion of being a charlatan, the best thing for him to do is to go the whole hog, because he has nothing to lose." Kippenberger went the whole hog.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Sept. 21-Jan. 5. www.moca.org

Catherine Opie:

American Photographer

Few photographers, even great ones, ever make a picture that ascends into the stratosphere to rank as an icon. When she was 32, Opie did. The 1993 self-portrait shows her naked body waist-up from behind, seated before a dark green formal backdrop. Her brown hair is clipped short, and a decorative tattoo rings her upper right arm. Alarmingly, though, a childlike drawing has been cut with a blade into the freckled skin of her back. Blood trickles from a scene that shows two female stick-figures holding hands in front of a cheerful little house. The sun peeks from behind puffy clouds, while a pair of birds fly by -- a sunny avian symbol of freedom is etched in brutal pain for this same-sex domestic couple. The bloody intimation of shocking violence resonates. Most important, in the post-Robert Mapplethorpe 1990s, the tension between unconventional sadomasochistic aesthetics and conformist family bliss asserted the inherent variety within homosexual life. So it's appropriate that the Guggenheim Museum’s mid-career retrospective transforms Cathy Opie, L.A. photographer, into the more formal and cosmopolitan "Catherine Opie: American Photographer" and positions her as a descendant of such early 20th century documentarians as the Americans Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans and Germany's August Sander. One small disappointment: It will be seen only in New York.

Guggenheim Museum, New York, Sept. 26-Jan. 7, www.guggenheim.org

Dialogue Among Giants: Carleton Watkins and

the Rise of Photography

in California

A compelling case could be made that Watkins (1829-1916) was California's first major artist. The photographs he did of Yosemite Valley in the early 1860s partly inspired Congress to protect the wilderness site. But the grand, unified pictorial structure of those remarkable images had another powerful effect: Standing in contrast to the shredded American social fabric of the Civil War era and its aftermath, they helped Americans visualize their democratic aspirations. Not surprisingly, the Getty Museum's incomparable department of photographs has a strong Watkins collection. Beginning with that core, this exhibition will assemble about 150 works, from daguerreotypes by unidentified makers to mammoth-plate photographs by Watkins and his contemporaries. All date from California's acquisition of statehood in 1850 to the mid-1880s, a period sometimes called the Golden Age of landscape photography. Eadweard Muybridge and Charles Leander Weed are among the other "giants" with whose work Watkins' photographs will be shown to have been aesthetically conversing. But California -- an evolving social, political and economic powerhouse rising at the distant shore of America's so-called Manifest Destiny -- looks as if it will be considered one of the title's giants too.

J. Paul Getty Museum, Oct. 14-March 1, www.getty.edu

2008 California Biennial

Four years ago, the Orange County Museum of Art launched an unexpectedly satisfying installment of its long-running biennial survey of California art. Work by 28 young artists was assembled from around the state for a show strongest in video, so-called new media (digital forms, especially) and performance-related genres. The Californians included artists born in Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Israel, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Portugal, reflecting the art scene's robust cosmopolitanism. Twice the size of the prior biennial, the exhibition filled the entire building, which had been handsomely refurbished for the occasion. The 2006 edition grew to 36 artists. Now, the 2008 California Biennial will grow yet again, to more than 50 individual artists and artist-teams. A guest curator -- Lauri Firstenberg, director of Culver City's nonprofit LAXART -- chose the participants, and her extravaganza will burst the bounds of the museum, with off-site projects in Tijuana, Joshua Tree, San Francisco and several locations around L.A.

Orange County Museum of Art, Oct. 26-March 15, www.ocma.net

Vermeer's 'A Lady Writing'

An exhibition of a single painting? If it features one of the three dozen surviving works by 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, it's a big deal. So don't be surprised if the Norton Simon Museum's presentation of "A Lady Writing" turns into a pilgrimage for art lovers. The 17 3/4 -by-15 3/4 -inch view of a luxuriously dressed woman seated at a desk, quill pen in hand, is a signature image by the artist known as a painter of light. On loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Vermeer is the latest high-profile traveler in the Simon's exchange program with the National Gallery and the Frick Collection in New York. For visitors who want to do more than gaze at the luminous masterpiece, the Pasadena museum will offer "What Makes a Vermeer a Vermeer? Searching for Clues in the Conservation Laboratory," a lecture by National Gallery curator Arthur Wheelock, at 4 p.m. Nov. 8, and a podcast interview of Wheelock and Simon chief curator Carol Togneri.

Norton Simon Museum, Nov. 7-Feb. 2, www.nortonsimon.org

'Belles Heures' of

the Duke of Berry

This shining jewel of French medieval manuscript illumination, which resides in the Cloisters Collections of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, is coming -- temporarily -- to Los Angeles. And thanks to the Met's recent publication of a facsimile edition and related conservation work, which required disassembling the sumptuously illustrated prayer book, a large segment of the early 15th century artwork will be on view in its unbound form. The "Belles Heures" was the product of three young Franco-Netherlandish brothers, Paul, Herman and Jean de Limbourg, the court artists of Jean, the Duke of Berry, a leading art patron who loved beautiful books and commissioned the finest artists to decorate them. The Limbourgs began their task in about 1405 and produced a richly illuminated volume known for its delicately refined style and sophisticated treatment of the human form.

J. Paul Getty Museum, Nov. 18-Feb. 8, www.getty.edu

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