11 essential art exhibitions in LA this fall, from portraits of Obama to smog art


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is working with limited gallery space, having recently demolished most of its eastern campus to begin construction on a new building. Considering the impact on its fall exhibition schedule, it may be time for LACMA to initiate a name change.

How about the Los Angeles County Museum of Primarily Modern and Contemporary Art?

LACMMM + CA for unpronounceable short.

That would seem to reflect what lies ahead for us this fall – and at least for the next 18 months. Of 14 ongoing and planned special exhibitions, only one looks at pre-modern art.

“Mixpantli: space, time and indigenous origins of Mexico” (opening December 12) is the only historical exhibit among the five fall shows, marking the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. The timeline for the remainder of 2021 features a modern exhibit (on old photography), while everything else is contemporary art.

Beyond that, for the whole of 2022 until spring 2023, six other exhibitions are now on the program of the LACMMM + CA – and all are also contemporary art. I expect several. Yet for the largest museum of encyclopedic art west of the Mississippi, such a narrow and lopsided agenda is frankly absurd.

As I noted when the pandemic shutdown was finally lifted in April, the museum has acted more like a kunsthalle (or contemporary exhibition hall) for years. At least 80% of its exhibitions since 2017 have featured art from the 20th and 21st centuries, and even that bloated percentage is increasing.

The money of the art world is lodged in contemporary art these days, which may help explain the irresponsible calendar. But given all the other contemporary museums in town – the Hammer, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Broad, the California African American Museum – as well as a vibrant and extensive network of small community museums, university galleries, others kunsthalles and shopping malls, all showcasing the art of our time, do we really need a LACMMM + CA?

Former LACMA has a large collection of impressive art spanning thousands of years of global creative history. So why do most languish in storage?

Here’s a selection of what’s coming this fall:

September 8-March 20

“LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze”

The black working class has been a central subject in the work of LaToya Ruby Frazier, born in 1982 just outside the faded industrial powerhouse in Pittsburgh. “The Last Cruze” features 67 photographs, a video, and an architectural installation that examine the social effects of a closed Chevrolet auto factory. California African American Museum, 600 State Drive, Exposition Park, LA Closed Mondays. To free. (213) 744-7432. caamuseum.org

September 9-April 3

“The modern chair”

In the mid-19th century, when German furniture maker Michael Thonet developed an industrial technique to safely vaporize wooden slats, bend them into curves, and laminate the layers together, the modern chair was born. For more than 150 years, some 50 million Thonet bentwood chairs have been produced. We will begin this study of fifty examples of what followed. Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Closed Monday to Wednesday. $ 5. psmuseum.org

Sep 12-Jun 6

“Pipilotti Rist: big heart, be my neighbor”

The investigation into the video installations and sculptures by Swiss media artist Pipilotti Rist was set to open last year when the coronavirus pandemic closed the museum. Finally opening, the show will also launch a new audio-video installation. The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo, Downtown LA Open Wednesday through Monday. $ 8 to $ 15 (includes same day admission to MOCA); members, jurors and children under 12 are free; Thursdays after 5 p.m. are free. (213) 626-6222. moca.org

Sep 14-Jan 2

“Fluxus Means Change: Avant-Garde Archive by Jean Brown”

Jean Brown, a former insurance agent living in a small town in western Massachusetts, became fascinated with Fluxus, the loose international assembly of artists of the 1960s that included George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Yoko Ono and Wolf Vostell. Six thousand books, pamphlets, notebooks, multiples, and other artifacts later, Brown’s Archives helped establish the Getty Research Institute in 1985. Getty Center, North Sepulveda Boulevard and Getty Center Drive, LA Closed Mondays. To free; Admission tickets in advance required. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu

18 Sep-Dec 18

“Kim Abeles: Smog Collectors, 1987-2020”

For more than 30 years, the artist from Los Angeles Kim abele made art out of one of urbanism’s least admired found objects: smog. She transforms the foul mixture of particles and ground-level ozone into paintings, drawings and ornaments for plates, baby high chairs, books and relentlessly spinning clocks. Begovich Gallery, Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd. Closed on Fridays and Sundays. To free. fullerton.edu

10 October-Jan. 9

“No humans involved”

From the Reagan era “greed is good” to the “I’ve got mine” philosophy of Trumpism, concepts of benevolent humanism have been put to the test over the past 40 years. Seven emerging artists and collectives look askance at some of the ramifications. UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Closed on Mondays. To free; reservations required. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu

October 14-16

“Sun & Sea”

For just three days, up to 20 tonnes of sand will transform MOCA’s Geffen warehouse into an indoor beach for an opera performed by 13 singers. Big draw at the Lithuanian pavilion at the last Venice Biennale, the current MOCA production by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė is co-presented with the Hammer Museum and the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo, LA $ 20, $ 25. moca.org

19 October-Jan. 9

“Holbein: Capturing Character in the Renaissance”

First in Basel, Switzerland, then in London at the court of Henry VIII, German artist Hans Holbein the Younger made a name for himself with highly refined portraits of members of the royal family, courtiers and d other people of 16th century society, dealing with aspects of the Northern European Renaissance. The show is billed as the first major Holbein exhibition in the United States. Getty Center, North Sepulveda Boulevard and Getty Center Drive, LA Closed Mondays. To free; Admission tickets in advance required. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu

November 7-Jan. 2

“The Obama Portrait Tour”

The portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama commissioned from Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, stop on a nationwide tour of Wiley’s hometown. A selection of Black American portraits from the museum’s permanent collection will also be on display. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., LA Closed Wednesdays. $ 10 to $ 25; children 2 and under are free; discounts for LA County residents. (323) 857-6010. lacma.org

10 Nov-Jan 24

“Rubens: Representing Antiquity”

When the young Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) converted to Catholicism and entered the Latin school, he received extensive training in the classics. A selection of drawings, oil sketches and monumental paintings by the Flemish artist and diplomat will be juxtaposed with Greek, Roman and Etruscan art from the Getty Villa collection. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. Closed on Tuesdays. To free; prior reservations required. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu

11 Nov-Feb 27

“Sahara: Acts of memory”

The works of Ismet and Amir Berbić, two generations of displaced graphic designers, are examined in an exhibition focused on the father’s creation of a graphic identity for Sahara, a Bosnian refugee camp in Denmark, and the memory of his childhood there. Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College, 120 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont; Open Tuesday to Saturday. To free; reservations required. pomona.edu

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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