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Run, don't walk to "Painting Set Free"

Run, don't walk to the Turner show at the Getty. It closes on May 24th. "Painting Set Free" is an apt description of just how free, unfussed, and otherworldly many of the works are. You can stick your nose right up to the canvases. Turner's earlier works feel as though they were painted with gossamer wings; when you stand back some of the images are revealed softly but clearly, like a mist unveiling. His paintings of Venice are all about these atmospherics as you might expect, but virtually all of his paintings and drawings involve emotive discoveries of the shifting qualities of air, mist, light, and color in the service of real life events, sometimes catastrophic events. Turner may never have actually observed the spectacle of a whale harpooning, but his complex paintings of them seem as though some actual memory was dredged up from a deep, mysteriously unknowable recess of his mind. The show makes a compelling case that what constitutes a finished work has little to do with the cultural conventions of the artist's time: It resides within the canvas itself. Turners' "unfinished" canvases have the poetical power to make you unconsciously hold your breath when you explore them. Although Turner predates the impressionists and abstractionists by many years, some of his works on display spectacularly foreshadow them. As a show, it works its magic. It makes you yearn for more and feel grateful that a treasure trove of his finished and unfinished drawings and paintings survived his death and live and breathe for us to see.

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