By: Scott S. Smith, Sandra Wells and Christian Smith

When we attended the 500th anniversary of the Dutch Golden Age of painting in Amsterdam, we noticed a gallery next to the main museum that touted its contemporary art. It appeared to be still under construction, but we were informed that the mess was actually the current exhibit. Most contemporary galleries primarily feature absurdly overpriced works that appeal to those who think anything is art as long as it is weird, controversial, or pretentious. The fashionable emperor of modern art just has no clothes, but the following feature artists with real talent.

Robert Berman Gallery at Bergamot Arts Center in Santa Monica has been world-renowned for more than four decades as the place where collectors of top contemporary artists past and present can count on finding rare, museum-quality works in a variety of media. In the past couple of years, exhibits and events have included Mr. Fish (Dwayne Booth), Christina Hale, Bill Tunberg, and Raymond Pettibon (see photo). Berman’s taste is wide-ranging and he calls himself “an absolute maximalist.” We saw the largest collection of paintings and drawings by Antonio Lopez, whom Berman calls “the No. 1 fashion illustrator in the world and a Latino member of the LGBTQ community” until his death in 1987 due to complication from AIDS (during an exhibition of his work at this gallery). Berman is now primarily an auctioneer of major pieces of art and photography, with large, outdoor events in May and November

Galerie XII in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Arts Center (as well as Paris and Shanghai) features stunning, innovative, and humorous photos, such as Patty Carroll’s “Anonymous Women,” quirky color photos showing them doing unusual things at home and work in a fun critique of stereotypes. Another series when we were there was by L.A.-based Aaron Lacy, whose black-and-white images of women’s forms are made by using high-speed photo techniques, so unusual they are treasured by collectors. We especially loved the powerful pictures of Africans whose skin is painted with iridescent colors (see photo), taken by Gabonese photographer Yannis Guibinga (she is now based in Montreal).

IVAN Gallery, 2709 S. Robertson Blvd. (south of Pico) in a stunningly decorated building owned by Aubrey Ivan Provost, hosting a variety of artists and events. It has a permanent gallery featuring Barbara Mendes 323/533-6021 @barbaramendes, open Tue.-Thu. and Sun. 12-5 pm (and by appointment). Using brilliant acrylics on large canvases, her narrative imagery and intricate detail explore themes of mystical Torah Judaism, multiculturalism, and all aspects of womanhood (see photo). But she best-known as a Comic-Con icon for her “Queen of the Cosmos” series under the name Willy Mendes.

La Luz de Jesus on Hollywood Blvd. east of Vermont has featured many major visionary artists such as John Griswold, Maryrose Crook, and Carrie Ann Baade (see photo). “We showcase figurative and narrative paintings and unusual sculptures.” Its list of what it does not display includes abstract expressionism. July 16-Aug. 28, 2022, its very popular annual “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” which show the work of over 100 artists.

LA Art Show is held at the downtown Convention Center each year in February and is one of the world’s most outstanding exhibitions for hundreds of contemporary artists who have gone through a rigorous screening process. That said, if your taste is as narrow as ours, you may find only a dozen galleries that really appeal. We especially loved the emerging and outsider artists of BG Gallery in Santa Monica, which featured Ramona Otto’s spectacular mixed media “Holy Cow: Prayer for Peaceful Coexistence” (see photo), Molly Gambardella’s heads made of sticks, and Jack Reilly’s Circles of Time. The mystical and visionary art at the Copro Gallery, also in Santa Monica, was featured Mark Garro, Chris Mars, and Sui Yumeshima. The Bruce Lurie Gallery in Pacific Palisades hosted some edgy artists, notably Isaac Pelayo’s humorous play on classical paintings. We found Georgia’s Kirsten Stingle’s “narrative sculptures” of women to be works of talent and imagination. Chicago’s Galerie Fledermaus hosted several innovative sculptors and painters, notably Alessandra Maria who created dark fantasy women. Another collection of favorites was at New York’s Arcadia Contemporary, especially the fantastic tiny heads of animals and humans by Stephen Mackey and Julio Reyes’ “Pegasus.”

Rassouli Art Studio is located in a beautiful neighborhood in the hills north of Ventura Blvd. on Louise Ave. in Encino and you need an appointment to visit. Feydoon Rassouli is a painter like no other we know: his technique is to make his first attempt at realizing his ultimate envisioned creation is with acrylics, which are easy to paint over. Only after 10-30 revisions does he use oils for the final version (you can watch a couple of short videos about his process on the website). He also has a unique view of how great art should be created, which he attributes to the Masters: they did not copy others, they “stole” ideas and then blended them with their own insights and techniques so that no one could even detect the origins of their works. Finally, the part of his vast library that is in the studio does not simply have the best books on all aspects of art and its history in every culture, it is full of sources for his inspiration in a variety of languages, many of the volumes about Sufism and other mystical traditions (one of his packs of oracle cards sells 1000 copies a month). He has written 28 books himself so far, including The Book of Creativity: Mastering Your Own Creative Power and Fusion Art: Creative Expression Through the Heart.