Los Angeles reaches for cultural preeminence this month with the LA Art Show (Jan. 15–19). On the same days, the Big Smoke makes its own claim for artistic supremacy with the London Art Fair. While the clamor for Cultural Mecca status might be a little unseemly, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that both cities can lay claim to the title, as the following highlights illustrate.
Like Beyoncé and Cher, 19th-century London-born artist J.M.W. Turner is such a stand-out figure, he generally goes by one name. Turner’s seething, luminous landscapes did things with light that shouldn’t have been possible with a paintbrush and palette.
Each year, the Turner Prize inspires outrage and mystification among British audiences, largely due to the nihilistic whimsy of the Brit-art crowd that has dominated the last couple of decades. Winners of the competition—exhibited at London’s Tate Britain—have included splattered elephant dung and an empty room with a lightbulb flickering on and off.
The father of the French impressionist movement, Claude Monet, did a number of landscapes in London during the early 1900s. Like Turner, Monet explored the interplay of light and form, and his London pictures captured the city’s brooding atmospherics better than the majority of local artists have ever done.
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Hollywood-born Kenny Scharf made a name for himself in the 1980s with a style that combined a cartoonish sensibility with the surrealism of Dalí. A contemporary of Keith Haring, Scharf helped to usher in an age when frosted donuts are a legitimate subject for fine art.
The 2011 Art in the Streets exhibition at the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art must have seemed like a good idea at first. Graffiti is real, it’s now. It is also, griped the show’s detractors, a “glorification of vandalism.” The streets around the gallery, it was said, were suddenly awash with the work of copycat taggers, and the show sputtered to an unhappy end.
English pop art pioneer David Hockney has lived in Los Angeles off and on for many years. He developed a fascination with Southern California swimming pools, typified by his 1978 picture “A Diver,” which features fluorescent yellows, blues, greens and a simple white splash.