Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

38942224My recent visit to LACMA was filled with highs and lows. Let’s start with the good stuff:

Franz West: To Build a House You Start with the Roof didactic wall text: It’s a good sign, and indicative of curatorial wit and perceptiveness here, that I laughed out loud a number of times when reading the curators’ descriptions accompanying wall labels. One example elucidated West’s intention that an art object be used while “doodling or relieving oneself;” another work, a painting with a hook is contextualized with text that blithely implores “Please feel free to try on the cap.” The labels were not lacking for contextual or serious information, but it was also with leavened by a humor simpatico to the work it described. Bravo.

Focus installations from the collection: Tucked into odd corners of the permanent collections, these mini-exhibitions were little windows into the curatorial mind: pet projects that just plain work. In photography there is a humble installation juxtaposing the 1970s magazine-based works of Robert Heineken with Elad Lassry’s contemporary photographs, often based on imagery from that era. Simply titled Photographic Conversations No. 7: Found, it speaks for itself, and how.

beall3Deep in the Art of the Americas building is a revelatory gallery featuring a selection of posters by graphic designer Lester Beall. Basically Constructivism meets the Heartland, it is fascinating to see how avant-garde aesthetics get filtered over into posters for the Rural Electrification Administration. The colors are bold and brash, with dynamic, simple lines activating the rather banal imagery. For more info check out Unframed’s post on the subject.

Now for the bad news. This was my first visit to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. When it first opened in February 2008 I remember the Guerrilla Girls making a stink about the severe lack of diversity in Broad’s collection and the inaugural installation of the BCAM. At the time, 30 artists were included in the installation, of which 97% were white and 83% were male. The Guerillas engaged in a delightful tête-à-tête with Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator of the Broad Collection. No wonder their archives ended up at the Getty.

Fifteen months later, things are even worse. The few women represented in that installation were primarily located on the second floor, subsequently displaced by the exhibition Art of Two Germanys. Gone were the Jenny Holzer’s and Cindy Sherman’s. What is now on view is the usual white, boys’ club, names sung by Louise Lawler’s trained birds: Baldessari, Warhol, Ruscha, Cy Twombly, Beuys (at least some of them are gay) plus Johns, Serra, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, etc. But unless this was some Sturtevant retrospective masquerading as the Broad Collection, it is nothing short of offensive that this was the best LACMA could pull out. To add insult to injury, much of the art looked impotent in the cavernous space. The curatorial politics of such a presentation are laughable.

Aptly, the one work I noticed at BCAM by a female artist was Barbara Kruger’s special commission lining the central elevators, titled, Cassandra-like, Shafted.

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