William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

El Segundo Museum Opens

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Why don’t more people visit museums? One answer is cost. Another is time. In L.A. particularly, getting to a museum often requires a serious commute. As museums expand, so does the time commitment needed to view exhibitions and permanent collections.

The El Segundo Museum of Art, which opened this Sunday, is an experiment in making museums commitment-free. Not only is the admission free but the museum asks little of the visitor’s time. The shoebox-shaped building, by architect and museum co-founder Eva Sweeney, certifies at a glance that a visit will be short and to the point. The 36 pieces on view—a few of them hung at kid’s eye level—include many museum-worthy names: Courbet (three paintings!), Corot, Pissarro, Sisley, Feininger, Christo, Alex Katz, Anselm Kiefer, and Peter Doig. ESMoA is located on on El Segundo’s Main Street U.S.A., in the hope that people running to the UPS store or the Mexican restaurant will see it and duck in. There aren’t many L.A. museums offering that kind of Mayberry serendipity.

ESMoA is the creation of Manhattan Beach collectors Brian and Eva Sweeney. The initial exhibition, “Desire,” is drawn entirely from their collection. I’m not sure I understand the show’s premise, and maybe it’s beside the point. There is a good deal of contemporary German art, familiar names and artists rarely seen on the West Coast. Eva is German-born, and her brother, Berlin gallerist/artist Bernhard Zuenkeler, organized the opening show.

There are no gallery labels. Numbers are stenciled on the floor. You look them up on the museum’s iPads or on your own mobile device (at esmoa.org). Above is Tony Matelli’s Weed and Abandon. Matelli, who is also in “LOST (in LA)” at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, deserves a medal for concurrent participation in inscrutable group shows.

The earliest piece in”Desire” is Corot’s 1826 oil sketch, Civita Castellano (left). A study of cliffs above an ancient town, it’s one of his most minimal works and deserves to be better known.

Two of the three Courbets are what dealers would call “difficult.” The third, Château au bord de la rivière (1856) is as beautiful a Courbet landscape as you’ll find in Los Angeles.

There is an Albert Barnes kookiness to the installation, an insistence on juxtapositions that are greater than the sum of the parts. Faux daisies by Roland Persson (Love Me, Love Me Not, 2011) appear to have fallen out of two painted landscapes by the obscure August Wilhelm Leu—Sunny Day on a Norwegian Fjord (1861) and Near the Amalfi Coast (1884). To the right is Mikhail Pirgelis’ Great Fortune, an Aer Lingus airline panel ripped from the fuselage and re-presented as a Lucky Charm.

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