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The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach has a swell show of unexpected works by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Unexpected because an equally compelling show of Siqueiros' more familiar works of political and cultural criticism are being shown at the Autry National Center during much of the same period.

I've not yet seen the show at the Autry, which focuses on the seven months in 1932 that Siqueiros spent in Los Angeles painting America Tropical, the controversial mural above Olvera Street that civic leaders quickly and brutally caused to be whitewashed out.

But I have walked through the MOLAA exhibition - two large rooms of Siqueiros' landscapes from both early and later periods in his life (he died in 1974). These works demonstrate that Siqueiros was both a muralist and major landscape painter. Drawings, sketches, and some remarkable lithographs round out the exhibition, which includes almost 75 the 150 landscapes that Siqueiros produced.

A few of these works, under the influence of Surrealism, aren't particularly compelling. The best of them are dense abstractions of desert barrancas and arroyos, hinting at submerged geologic forces that may stand in for political (or cosmic) ones. Some were produced while Siqueiros fought in the Spanish Civil War; others, from the 1950s, are his reaction to the Cold War and the nuclear threat.

He used unconventional materials in their production: Industrial composites instead of canvas and Duco, a DuPont brand name for a type of pyroxilin paint manufactured for the automotive industry, that allowed Siqueiros to pile up layers of colors while retaining a relatively uniform surface.

The exhibition organizers are too hesitant in their regard for these works:

Although Siqueiros is represented in the historic canon of modern Mexican art as one of the leading proponents of public art for social action - largely due to his mural painting - it was through his easel painting that he studied an extensive variety of techniques and styles that allowed him to examine pictorial space, composition, light, shadow and color.

In fact, Siqueiros packs more pleasures in his landscapes than merely an art history footnote.

In a side room of the MOLAA galleries is another installation: All the Poetry Books by Mexican artist Jorge Méndez Blake. According to an interpretive note:

For this project, the artist will do a "poetry mapping" of the area, removing the complete section of poetry holdings from various Los Angeles and Long Beach libraries and crating them to their specific, accumulated volume in relationship to each library. The exhibition will include a new crate installation on the third Thursday of every month for the duration of the project . . .

As so, all the poetry books at the Montana branch of the Santa Monica Library are in a rather small packing crate next to a wall label that lists books and authors, from Auden to Tupac Shakur to Walt Whitman.

The artist's statement has some muttering about mapping space and asserting a new vision of a democratic library and the liberation of volume - both in books and in buildings. But the concept doesn't hold much water.

In fact, it seems blandly ironic that a painter in passionate conflict with authorities claiming special rights over people and their cultural property is yoked with a artist who shuts up books in a crate. If the box does, in fact, hold all the poetry books at the library, then (for a few days at least) readers there will have no poetry at all.

I'm reminded of what William Carlos Williams wrote: "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." And, I suppose, that goes for patrons of the Montana Library.

The photogrpah on this page was taken by Flickr contributor Corey Burger. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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