Reviews by Christopher Knight (C.K.), Holly Myers (H.M.) and Leah Ollman (L.O.). Compiled by Grace Krilanovich.
The Chimaera of Arezzo A Chimaera fuses the body of a fire-breathing lion with a coiling serpent in place of its tail, so it is capable of guarding the rear flank; for good measure, a horned goat emerges from the lion’s back. Altogether this chomping, hissing, butting flamethrower is a mythological hybrid as frighteningly improbable as something from “Alien” in the movies or a Blue Dog Democrat in Congress. The minute you see the 2,400-year-old Chimaera of Arezzo (it’s the first time the famous Etruscan sculpture has traveled to the U.S.), you’ll know immediately why the magnificent bronze is regarded as a textbook work of art (C.K.). Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. Thu.-Mon., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tue.-Wed.; ends Feb. 8. (310) 440-7300.
Divine Demons: Wrathful Deities in Buddhist Art When one thinks of Buddhist art, one tends to conjure up images of tranquility and bliss. This show presents a different picture, conjuring up a panoply of teeth-baring, arm-waving, serpent-stomping creatures that are there to step in when celestial composure is not enough (H.M.). Norton Simon Museum of Art, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Mon., Wed.-Thu., Sat.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.; Fri., noon-9 p.m.; closed Tue.; ends March 8. (626) 449-6840.
Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield This breathtaking exhibition, organized by artist Robert Gober, demonstrates the extraordinary power Burchfield (1893-1967) was able to coax forth from the watercolor medium. A sheet of paper emerges as a membrane stretched between the outer world of nature and the inner world of the artist’s emotional life. Think of it as an aesthetic skin, separating different domains that are both in constant flux. His story as an artist is the lifelong odyssey of reconciling the two -- of finding the means by which to bring them into harmony or its semblance. Burchfield gave the spiritual intuitions of 19th century American transcendentalism a Modernist reverberation (C.K.). Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Tue.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Today. (310) 443-7000.
Beloved Daughters: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh Sheikh’s two most recent projects tell of indignity but show only beauty. While most socially concerned photographers advocate for justice by illustrating injustice, Sheikh delivers bitter truths in text but fills his frames with gorgeous portraits and evocative sense impressions. His explorations of the impact of traditional social mores on women in India documents a lifecycle of inequities, but Sheikh never depicts women as victims. The complexity of their fate, as rendered in words, is complemented poignantly by the simple visual evidence of their humanity (L.O.). Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego. Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; ends Jan. 31. (619) 238-7559.
Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years This is not just a promotional treasure-house show of about 500 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos and installations by more than 200 international artists in MOCA’s remarkable permanent collection. Installed chronologically, it also tells a story -- although one that’s rarely heard. The postwar rise of American art is paired with the simultaneous rise of Los Angeles, from shallow backwater to cultural powerhouse. At the Grand Avenue building, which spans 1939 to 1979, the distinctive emergence of a mature L.A. art is embedded within the larger postwar prominence of the United States, artistically dominated by New York. At the Geffen, the story picks up in the year MOCA was born. Tying the Geffen start-date to MOCA’s own arrival on the scene audaciously asserts the museum’s instrumental role in the city’s art-life. The two-for-one double-header amply testifies why MOCA matters (C.K.). Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), 250 S. Grand Ave., LA; and Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., L.A. Mon. and Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; closed Tue.-Wed.; ends May 3. (213) 626-6222.
Drawings by Rembrandt and His Pupils: Telling the Difference Rembrandt is an artist about whom questions of attribution have long been raised. The drawings, rarely signed, can be especially difficult. The show’s aim is to compare his drawings with those of his most important students -- 15 of the roughly 50 he is known to have taught over his four-decade career. They labored hard to mimic his achievement. Sometimes Rembrandt “corrected” their renderings by drawing over their work. In the casual atmosphere of the studio, completed drawings by master and pupils would often be intermingled. And Rembrandt’s own work also evolved as years went by, so the standard of visual measurement is always changing. The show, deftly organized to show visitors how distinctions between Rembrandt’s drawings and his pupils’ can be discerned, is a marvelous exercise in and demonstration of connoisseurship (C.K.). Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A. Tue.-Fri. and Sun., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Feb. 28. (310) 440-7300.
Irving Penn: Small Trades Three important 20th century photographers made pictorial catalogs of working-class men and women. Eugene Atget and August Sander can partly be seen as erecting an image of enlightened humanism during a period deeply shadowed by the life-shattering brutalities of World War I. Irving Penn, a quintessential American in Paris after World War II, is considerably different. His great skill is not in peeling away outer layers to show us the person hidden within. After all he’s a fashion photographer par excellence. His workers model. Emphasizing aesthetics within ordinariness, their surfaces thrum with meaning (C.K.). Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A. Tue.-Fri. and Sun., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends next Sun. (310) 440-7300.
The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis Robert Crumb spent nearly five years thinking about and drawing 206 sheets to illuminate the first book of the Old Testament -- chapter by chapter, scene by scene -- inside rectilinear panels whose wavy contours frame events with nervous visual energy. Engaging a master of the profane to tell a sacred story could have proven to be a wincing gimmick, but Crumb’s too good an artist for that. He’s not a believer in the divinity of the Bible’s authorship, and that sense of human origins is conveyed by his distinctive drawing style. The invigorating result is the restoration of historical literary and artistic power to a world-changing narrative (C.K.). Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Tue.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Feb. 7. (310) 443-7000.
Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life The show attempts to put the best possible light on an artist of great promise ultimately unfulfilled. Luis Meléndez could claim prodigious technical skill, but as an artist he was stuck in first gear. He was among the first students admitted to Madrid’s new academy of fine arts, but several nasty administrative squabbles ended badly, and he was expelled. Gone were his chances for a royal appointment, so he had to make do with selling still life paintings on the open market. The still lifes carefully catalog nature’s bounty and the kitchen’s tools. Compositions are often self-consciously artful, as if he was champing at the bit for an expressive fluency that grand history painting might contain (C.K.). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Mon.-Tue., Thu., noon-8 p.m.; Fri., noon-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; closed Wed.; ends today. (323) 857-6000.
Sites of Latin American Abstraction: Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection This sprawling survey shows geometric abstract art as carrying profound implications for the social and political life of Latin America between the 1940s and the 1970s. Especially in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, where figurative representations of political content would be an almost impossible way to go given harsh prohibitions against public debate, geometric abstraction came to represent progressive values. Far from being a simple matter of indifferent or escapist design, it was approached as a modern avenue for the conception of distinctly Latin American identity (C.K.). Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach. Tue.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Mon.; ends Jan. 24. (562) 437-1689.