The Original Rudeboy / LA ART SHOW

caravaggioMichelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - truncated to a Madonna or Cher-like “Caravaggio” for modern attention-deficit prone audiences is enjoying his last days in Los Angeles at LACMA’s Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy exhibition on now through February 10th.

It is a MUST SEE.  Why?  Because of this painting at left.  St. John the Baptist painted c. 1604 is quite simply a daring work of genius.  Compositionally, it’s very nearly perfect. Following linearly across the major forms one zooms endlessly back around the center of the canvas in a masterfully hidden bit of Mannerist trickery.  There are echoes of triangles in the left arm, the right thigh, and his cloth.  The shadows over his eye and the turned bamboo cross, meanwhile, add pathos to the spiritual quality of the painting by suggesting that his divine calling was something of a heavy burden.  St. John the Baptist, here, literally looks away from the divine light as though it were blinding. His look, meanwhile, hints at either skepticism or even weariness.

Most daring, however, is the fact that this figure appears to be a classically informed Kouros - an idealized young  man who hovers between the innocence of boyhood and the erotic potential of manhood. (Thanks Camille Paglia.)  How Caravaggio avoided charges of heresy for this work, I’ll never know. BUT, it is a masterwork and well worth the trip.

THE LA ART SHOW… is full of old friends who are trying valiantly to keep a large and now long-standing fair in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I was underwhelmed. The contemporary side was full of empty populist stuff and the historic dealers seemed resigned to an audience of lesser means and education.  Am I projecting?  Maybe.  Tune in next time: I will check in with my spies and offer a final report.


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