With spring in full swing, these 10 shows focus on new beginnings, old friends, and transformations. The Hammer Museum inaugurates its new gallery, 20 years in the making, with a laser light installation by Rita McBride, while Lisson opens its new LA space with a solo show from the late Cuban-born painter Carmen Herrera. Make me feel mighty real at Honor Fraser chronicles the long history of avatars in queer culture from the underground to digital spaces, and Robert Russell at Anat Ebgi reveals the darkness under a surface of kitsch. At prjctLA, Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio share documentation of their latest LA River project, presenting a model for reconnecting the waterway to its natural floodplain, a forward-looking proposal rooted in history.

Patrisse Cullors and noé olivas: Freedom Portals

Installation view of Patrisse Cullors and noé olivas: Freedom Portals (photo by Yubo Dong, courtesy the artists and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles)

Freedom Portals is a two-person show featuring the work of artists noé olivas and Patrisse Cullors, also known as one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. The exhibition draws on Ifá, a Yoruba religion from West Africa, which communicates wisdom and teaching through a series of 16 Odú or books. Cullors’s textile works incorporate Malian mud cloth, yarn, and cowrie shells to interpret 12 of these Odú. olivas’s sculptures made from garden shears, glass, and satellite fragments reference portals used to communicate with those in the afterlife. Their spiritually rooted collaborative practice can be viewed in the context of the Crenshaw Dairy Mart, a community-based arts-space founded in 2020 by Cullors and olivas with alexandre ali reza dorriz that links art, activism, and ancestral knowledge.

Charlie James Gallery (cjamesgallery.com)
961 Chung King Road, Chinatown, Los Angeles
Through April 15

Olivia Mole: A Bear Shits in the Woods

Installation view of Olivia Mole: A Bear Shits in the Woods (photo by Chris Hanke, image courtesy the artist and Gattopardo)

A Bear Shits in the Woods is a low-rent phantasmagoria created by London-born, LA-based artist Olivia Mole. Through installation, performance, sculpture, drawing, and video, we follow three characters pulled from her stable of schlock and pop-culture heroes: A bear, similar to the toilet-paper shilling Charmin mascot; Skeletor, or Skelly, the villain in ’80s cartoon He-Man; and a tree, or rather, a person dressed in a dime-store tree costume. Set in a cabin in the woods, the trio goofs off, plays the drums, and melds into one another as a strip tease reveals costumes within costumes. From common archetypes, Mole crafts something fresh and undefinable.

Gattopardo (gattopardo.la)
2626 North Figueroa Street, Unit C, Cypress Park, Los Angeles
Through April 15

Lisa Alvarado: Pulse Meridian Foliation

 Lisa Alvarado, “Vibratory Cartography: Nepantla” (2021), acrylic, ink, gouache, canvas, burlap, fringe, polyester, wood, 69 inches x 81 inches (photo by Tom van Eynde, image courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, NYC)

Chicago-based artist Lisa Alvarado draws on a wide spectrum of visual traditions to realize the potential of abstraction to engage with memory, geography, and the political. Her work is informed by Native American textiles, Chicano Muralism, her own border identity, and her musical practice as part of the band Natural Information Society. Pulse Meridian Foliation reflects this sense of creative hybridity, featuring double-sided paintings, a new mural, photography, and sound installation.

REDCAT (redcat.org)
631 West 2nd Street, Downtown, Los Angeles
Through August 20

Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio: Underland

Installation view of Underland: Lauren Bon and The Metabolic Studio at PRJCTLA (photo by David Baine)

Environmental artist Lauren Bon and her Metabolic Studio are involved in exploring the landscapes under LA’s asphalt and concrete, the city’s ecological infrastructure. Projects range from transforming a former industrial site into a 32-acre cornfield, to a 240-mile performance leading to the source of the waters that feed the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The studio’s current project, Bending the River, provides a model for liberating the LA River from its concrete channelization, beginning with dispersing a small amount of water to several public parks, representing the river’s original floodplain. Underland showcases the Studio’s work on this project, featuring three triangular sections of the LA river floor that were removed in 2021, repurposed here as screens on which to view evocative and documentary material.

PRJCTLA (prjctla.com)
1452 East 6th Street, Arts District, Los Angeles
Through April 22

Robert Russell: Porzellan Manufaktur Allach

Robert Russell, “Kleiner Schaeferhund” (2022), oil on canvas, 80 inches x 90 inches (photo by Matthew Kroening, image courtesy the artist and Anat Ebgi)

Behind the seductive surfaces of Robert Russell’s paintings of kitschy porcelain figurines lies a sinister history. The ceramic dogs, bunnies, and sheep he depicts are based on wares produced by the Allach Porcelain Manufacturing Company, a German factory founded in 1935. As German labor became scarce during World War II, they moved production to the Dachau concentration camp, where prisoners were forced to create these objects that represented the purity of Aryan culture. Russell enlarges these once delicate works to a monumental scale, highlighting the link between the banal and the evil.

Anat Ebgi (anatebgi.com)
6150 Wilshire Boulevard, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles
Through April 22

Jochen Lempert and Lin May Saeed

Installation view of Jochen Lempert and Lin May Saeed exhibition (photo by Ruben Diaz, courtesy Chris Sharp Gallery, Los Angeles)

German artists and longtime friends Jochen Lempert and Lin May Saeed both explore the relationship between humans and animals, albeit in very different practices. Saeed’s sculptures, carved from styrofoam or cast in bronze, depict flora in fauna caught between paradise and precarity. Her rough-hewn surfaces recall ancient Egyptian or Greek relief friezes. By contrast, Lempert’s formally rigorous black-and-white photographs are more contemplative, quiet images that encourage absorption in the details of the natural world.

Chris Sharp Gallery (chrissharpgallery.com)
4650 West Washington Boulevard, Mid-City, Los Angeles
Through May 6

Barbara T. Smith & Friends: Treasures

Installation view Barbara T. Smith with Friends, Treasures, at The Box LA, March 18–May 13, 2023 (photo by Fredrik Nilsen Studio, courtesy the artist and The Box LA)

Treasures brings together work by LA artist Barbara T. Smith, alongside contributions from over 20 other artists pulled from her personal collection. Spanning over five decades, the exhibition highlights the artistic and personal threads that have informed her life and work, painting a portrait of creative community. The disparate group of artists featured includes George Herms, James Lee Byers, Sister Corita Kent, Fred Eversley, and Channa Horwitz.

The Box (theboxla.com)
805 Traction Avenue, Arts District, Los Angeles
Through May 13

Carmen Herrera, The 1970s: Part 2

Carmen Herrera, “Blue Monday” (1972), acrylic on canvas, 42 inches x 70 inches (© Carmen Herrera; image courtesy Lisson Gallery)

Lisson Gallery will be inaugurating its new Los Angeles space with an exhibition of works by Cuban-born painter Carmen Herrera, who died last year at the age of 106. The show will feature geometric abstract paintings from the 1970s, the second half of a two-part exhibition that began in 2022 at their New York location. On view will be her Days of the Week paintings, a series of seven works displaying brightly-colored dynamic forms with black backgrounds.

Lisson Gallery (lissongallery.com)
1037 North Sycamore Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles
April 15–June 10

Make Me Feel Mighty Real: Drag/Tech and the Queer Avatar

Installation view of Make Me Feel Mighty Real: Drag/Tech and the Queer Avatar at Honor Fraser Gallery (photo by Jeff McLane, courtesy the gallery)

Make Me Feel Mighty Real is an intergenerational group show featuring over 40 artists who explore the role of avatars as a form of queer liberation. The exhibition charts a course from drag to virtual reality, and the dance floor to the chat room, illustrating how technology has helped fulfill dreams of desire, community, and freedom. Featured artists include Andy Warhol, Charles Atlas, Jacolby Satterwhite, Dynasty Handbag, Ryan Trecartin, and many others.

Honor Fraser (honorfraser.com)
2622 South La Cienega Boulevard, Culver City, California
Through May 27

Rita McBride: Particulates

Installation view of Rita McBride, “Particulates” (2017), water molecules, surfactant compounds, and high-intensity lasers, at the Hammer Museum, March 26–November 5, 2023 (photo by Joshua White)

Last month, the Hammer Museum unveiled its long-awaited transformation, two decades in the making. To inaugurate its newest gallery, a former bank vault, it has mounted a presentation of Rita McBride’s Particulates, a laser light installation first exhibited in 2016. High-intensity laser beams interact with water and dust in the air, forming a hyperbolic parabola stretching across the width of the space. The work can be seen both night and day, visible to passersby on the street after museum hours through tinted windows.

Hammer Museum (hammer.ucla.edu)
10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Westwood, Los Angeles
Through November 5

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.