Wowed at the Weisman

When asked I tell people, mostly visitors to LA, that the Norton Simon Museum has by far the best collection in Southern California if not the West Coast. But I now must qualify this. If you just want to see twentieth century art, there is nothing that rivals the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation. Located in Holmby Hills, the foundation is restricted (by neighbors) from advertising, promotion and all sorts of other things that ordinarily would draw attention to the greatest art collection I have ever seen in one place. The art in the house is left exactly as Fred Weisman had it hung the day he passed. The only exceptions are because of lending art to shows (big museum shows of important works), those pieces get replaced from a vast stockpile of the Weisman collection that happened to not be hung on the walls the day Fred passed. On the day I visited, the docent, who leads the group and whose biggest rule is that nobody is allowed to leave her line of sight, mentioned that a few masterpieces we were looking at were only there because the occasional Jasper Johns painting that was supposed to be there was part of the major retrospective of the artist currently at the Broad Museum.

At the front door is the greatest Clyfford Still painting I have ever seen (and I’ve been to his eponymous museum in Denver). There is a second Still, these are two of less than 40 Stills in prvate hands. That second one is in a room with two De Koonings worth a hundred milllion each and the single best Rothko I’ve ever seen (the docent turned off the lights to show it as Mark R. himself intended, a perfect gesture, and a memorable sight). There are weird things - two motorcycles decorated by Keith Haring, Warhol portraits of Fred looking dapper and decidedly un-celebrityesque - but the core of the collection on display here is a greatest hits of American midcentury art. If you must view art from a political angle, come here to tackle what was created at the peak of the empire and still stands, emblematic in its mostly abstraction, for it. If you are aesthetics first, just let your eyes inhale a century’s worth of recapitualing form.

A rare Jackson Pollock poured painting on paper hangs in a hallway, two small early Barnett Newmans are standing in their frames on shelves, two Ad Reinhardt paintings from the early sixties are on eaither side of a doorway. Its just endless Modernism here, easily a Billion dollars worth, maybe two. No photography is allowed inside so I kinda stretched it here by shooting the Still from outside the front door, my apologies to Billie Milam if that is too afoul, but since she cannot advertise it all I feel I must (consider that she could have simply sold the collection off, the gesture of maintaining this collection is one to which we can all just bow and thank the heavens for the right person being the one who was given stewardship). This collection is a major thing, and NOBODY talks about it. It beats an afternoon at the Getty tenfold. You should take your friends when they visit there. You should take the people you love to debate there. I should take my wife soon, as I went with a friend from out of town who booked the day there on a whim. What a whim!

There is a lot of bad art out there, we are awash in mediocrity in the schools and galleries and institutions. The occasional highlight is lost in a sea of parroted drivel. It is nice to go somewhere and it is all just greatest hits. You've heard of the "Western Canon"... well this is the boom out of that cannon.

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