This year, we have proudly grown our Los Angeles list from 10 to 15 picks. This is not only because LA has so much to offer, but because Hyperallergic has also made a concerted effort to increase its coverage of this artistically diverse and vibrant city. The list gives you an idea of which shows and artists spoke specifically to our various Los Angeles writers. The results range from retrospectives of under-recognized local artists like Dora DeLarios to a stunning historical survey of the Renaissance nude.
1. Made in LA at the Hammer Museum
June 3–September 2
The Hammer Museum’s biennial show dedicated to contemporary art in Los Angeles was exceptionally strong this year, in large part because the works were made by a group of artists whose backgrounds, perspectives, and ways of working represent the diversity of LA itself. It’s easy to treat diversity as a self-evident good in empty rhetoric, but this biennial was a testament to the actual bittersweet benefits of lifting up many voices. To wit, the first work one encountered was Candice Lin’s sorrowful “La China Charada,” which evokes the stories of the thousands of Chinese laborers who were forcibly brought to the Caribbean in the 19th century. As Matt Stromberg astutely pointed out, corporeality formed a major undercurrent in the show. Luchita Hurtado’s depictions of her own nude body and Alison O’Daniel’s multichannel film “The Tuba Thieves,” an exploration of the relationship between music and silence rooted in the artist’s experience with hearing loss, were, for me, particular highlights. The two artists who received the biennial’s juried awards — Lauren Halsey and Daniel Joseph Martinez — mourn and evoke particular dead bodies in their work, while the winner of the Public Recognition Award — EJ Hill — presented his own living body in a defiantly arduous durational performance. What made the show unique and important was that regardless of who a visitor was, the art on view could create an empathetic connection to the lived experiences of someone “other.” —Ksenya Gurshtein
2. Dora De Larios: Other Worlds at the Main Museum
February 25–May 13
Indefatigable to the very end, Dora De Larios was creating work just days before she succumbed to a years-long battle with cancer in January, a month before the opening of her retrospective, which was organized by Allison Agsten, director of the Main, with curatorial associate Monica Rodriguez. De Larios’s sculptures, ceramics, and public murals eschewed the prevailing styles or trends of her time, drawing inspiration from her worldly travels and the polyglot communities of her native Los Angeles. While the chance to see some of De Larios’s most memorable works, including a set of stunning blue and white majolica dishes commissioned by the White House in 1977, might be over for now, her large-scale public commissions, defined by their brightly colorful abstract tiling, remain viewable at libraries throughout Los Angeles County. —Abe Ahn
3. Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions at the Getty Research Institute, and Grandfather: A Pioneer Like US (1974) at the ICA LA
February 6–May 6 & February 4–April 22
Before Hans-Ulrich or Klaus, there was Harald. Szeemann that is, the groundbreaking Swiss curator who organized over 150 exhibitions that spanned minimalist and conceptual art (1968’s When Attitudes Become Form), to early 20th-century utopian community Monte Veritá, to explorations of Swiss identity. Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions at the Getty (curated by Glenn Phillips) drew on his voluminous archives to highlight the vast range of his practice, illustrating just how important a good curator can be in imparting meaning to a series of objects, telling new stories, or bringing old histories to light. A companion show at the ICA LA faithfully reproduced Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us (1974), a deeply personal examination of the life and work of his grandfather Etienne, a noted hairdresser. Although some critics may see in him a model for the globe-trotting independent curator that jet sets from biennial to fair to gala, this pair of shows revealed Szeemann’s boundless curiosity that extended well beyond the confines of the insular art world. —Matt Stromberg
4. Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths at the Fowler Museum
June 3–December 30
The Arts of Africa are often displayed by region, or by function, but rarely by material, a novel approach that characterizes the engrossing show Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths, curated by Tom Joyce at the Fowler Museum. Organized by Tom Joyce, a MacArthur Fellow and master blacksmith himself, the exhibition features over 225 objects ranging from ceremonial axes and ritual objects to currencies, tools, musical instruments, and body adornments. More than simply presenting the finished pieces as aesthetic objects, the show elucidates the smelting and forging process, as well as the cultural, technological, and spiritual importance of the various works, shedding light on the long history of ironworking on the continent, which goes back over 2,000 years. —MS
5. The Renaissance Nude at the Getty Center
October 30, 2018–January 27, 2019
While the nude has been featured in European art for millennia, it was not until the Renaissance that artists began to painstakingly represent bodies with the utmost realism. This is the main argument of this gorgeous exhibition curated by Thomas Kren. From the religious to the erotic, The Renaissance Nude thoughtfully breaks down how the body was approached and made tangible during this groundbreaking moment in history. —Elisa Wouk Almino
6. Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain at the Autry Museum
May 12, 2018–January 6, 2019
There are many ways to experience the work of artist Rick Bartow, whose lifelong explorations of trauma, identity, and history are well suited for this thematic retrospective curated by Amy Scott. Bartow’s paintings and sculptures often feature hybrid figures who waver between man and animal, desolation and healing. This ambivalence in form and meaning gives rise to more complicated understandings of the artist’s Native identity and an engagement with Native history that is not set apart from American or art history. For this show to take place in a museum once dedicated to a singing cowboy and the mythology of the American West makes it all the more meaningful and timely. —AA
7. One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
October 14, 2018–March 11, 2019
Curator Helen Molesworth has described her final exhibition at MOCA as a personal one. And you can tell the care she has put into it. Taking Manny Farber’s “termite” paintings as its point of departure, One Day at a Time is a meaningful tribute to the art of the everyday, revealing its profound and political potential. —EWA
8. Jasper Johns: Something Resembling the Truth at the Broad
February 10–May 13
This is one artist’s epic, drawing together works from all over a 50-year career into one staggering show, curated by Ed Schad. Jasper Johns creates art that often falls into a definition-defying intersection between painting and found objects, with 3D materials brought into 2D compositions. Very few can do as many variations on a single theme, whether it be the American flag or a series of numbers, and keep it as fresh and fascinating as he does. —Dan Schindel
9. Rafa Esparza: de la Calle at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
April 22–July 15
Earlier this year, Rafa Esparza took up a residence at the ICA LA together with various local artists and queer nightlife personalities. There, they worked on-site to make supremely inventive garments and artworks, which were later worn in an impromptu parade along Los Angeles’s Santee Alley. As Alex Jen wrote in his beautiful review for Hyperallergic, “The project is refreshing in how it changes over time, the ideas and textures and bright colors in different garments ricocheting off and influencing one another.” —EWA
10. My Veins Do Not End In Me at the Mistake Room
June 30–September 15
My Veins Do Not End In Me, curated by Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia and Cesar Garcia, brought together three generations of the Aparicio family, whose work tells a story of displacement, diaspora, and resilience across borders. It features the work of Juan Edgar, whose three-dimensional carved paintings recall the horrors he witnessed during the Civil War in El Salvador, which he left for the US after the disappearance of his wife, brother, and daughter.There were also dolls created by his mother Maria de la Paz, sewn from used clothes sent back to El Salvador by her son in Los Angeles, which are then returned to the US to be sold; and objects made by Juan Edgar’s son, Eddie Rodolfo, composed of rubber, tree sap, and found clothing, which reflect the experience of growing up in Los Angeles in a diaspora community of Salvadoran expats. Bridging the personal and the political with pathos, humanity, and a vital materiality, the exhibition takes on an unfortunately timely resonance, showing that threads of culture and family supersede cartographic boundaries. —MS
11. Eugenia P. Butler: That Which Emerges at the Box
September 15–November 3
The first solo exhibition of conceptual artist Eugenia P. Butler since her death in 2008, That Which Emerges at the Box revealed Butler as the rare artist whose work skillfully balanced aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional material. Butler’s 1993 project The Kitchen Table — televised conversations with art-world figures, including Marina Abramović, Allan Kaprow, and Carolee Schneemann, originally shown at the Art/LA93 art fair — was especially illuminating. The off-the-cuff discussions provide insight into the minds of artists and critics in an unusually intimate way. Butler’s text pieces infuse new-age philosophy with theoretical rigor, while her drawings demonstrate her formal rigor. —Natalie Haddad
12. In the Fields of Empty Days at LACMA
May 6–September 9
LACMA consistently finds and exhibits some of the most fascinating contemporary Iranian art, and this show, curated by Linda Komaroff, brought together different works incorporating the region’s history in ways one might not expect, with ancient paintings hanging alongside works from last year. Siamak Filizadeh’s bizarre photos are so intricate that they appear photoshopped, but are in fact a meticulously produced tableaux of semi-comical, semi-uneasy scenes. Works such as pictures of both major events and everyday life by the celebrated photojournalist Abba lend context to the collection, so that even those without much foreknowledge of Iranian culture and history can feel some instinctual, if not tangible, connection to the myriad curiosities on display. —DS
13. Robert Pruitt: Devotion at the California African American Museum
September 12, 2018–February 17, 2019
This 10-year look back at the drawings and sculptures of Robert Pruitt showcases the sweep of his approach to creating a new iconography of black Americans. Curated by Mar Hollingsworth, the display also includes a sampling of historical objects from the museum’s collection to put Pruitt’s art in a larger context. This exhibition is an opportunity to see how an artist who has always excelled at draftsmanship continually pushes his rendering toward ever greater power and sensitivity. The payoff is visible in the work of the past two years, in which monumental portrayals of allegorical figures from Pruitt’s own imagination simply astonish. —Daniel Gerwin
14. Emory Douglas: Bold Visual Language at LACE
July 8–August 26
Any exhibition of work by Emory Douglas is bound to be powerful. The former Cultural Minister of the Black Panther Party and Art Director of the Black Panther newspaper, Douglas’s artistic and rhetorical prowess have made him one of the most important artist-activists of the past half-century. What made , curated by Essence Harden and Daniela Lieja Quintanar at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, exceptional was its thoughtful pairing of Douglas’s works with art by contemporary artists whose concerns intersect with and expand upon his own. Particularly poignant were weavings from Douglas’s collaborations the Woman’s Zapatista Embroidery Collective in Mexico. —NH
15. Wendell Gladstone: Fever Pitch at Shulamit Nazarian
January 6–February 17
Conspicuous consumption, gendered power dynamics, and the relationship between the elites and the masses all danced together (sometimes literally) in the psychologically charged paintings of Wendell Gladstone’s first solo exhibition at Shulamit Nazarian. From his vivid color palette to his painstakingly detailed application, the works delighted on both formal and intellectual levels. Like all honest depictions of our all-too-human society, they offered no easy answers, only further inquiries into what the problems might be. —Jennifer Remenchik
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