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Critic's Notebook: MOCA begins to roll out future exhibition plans

January 14, 2010 | 10:53 am

Cruz-Diez Cromosaturacion 2008In November the Museum of Contemporary Art opened an impressive survey exhibition of the collection it has assembled over the last 30 years. (If you haven't seen the sprawling show of some 500 works — it continues through the spring— you're missing something remarkable.) For a long while the only major offering on the schedule after “Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years” was “Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective,” which just closed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That show, which reconsiders the work of the American painter who fled the 1915 Armenian genocide as a child, is on its way to London's Tate Modern before arriving in Los Angeles in June.

Lately MOCA has also started to roll out an exhibition schedule for the next two years. With some caveats, it's impressive.

Together with the permanent collection, the roster shows why MOCA has the extraordinary reputation it does. No contemporary museum in the United States has anything more compelling on its current list of coming attractions. Remarkably, almost all of it is organized by MOCA, alone or in collaboration with other museums.

Historical shows include “Latin American Light and Space” -- pictured is a work by Venezuela's Carlos Cruz-Diez -- the first museum survey to relate South American contributions to a form of Minimalist object and installation art usually identified with L.A. in the 1960s and 1970s; “California Art in the Age of Pluralism, 1974-1980,” which proposes that the often-overlooked late-1970s was in fact a period of remarkable innovation for what has come to pass since; and “Land Art to 1977,” the first large-scale historical look at the emergence of Earthworks — MOCA owns Michael Heizer's important “Double Negative” (1969), a massive man-made trench spanning a deep natural gully in the remote Nevada wilderness—coupled with a new project by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel in the Mojave Desert.

Three solo retrospectives of current or former L.A.-based artists are also on tap: William Leavitt, whose quirky Conceptual art exploits narrative forms of painting and installation art; the late Jack Goldstein, who studied at Cal Arts with John Baldessari and merged Pop, Minimal and Conceptual forms in paintings, drawings and films; and Mike Kelley, one of the most important international artists of the last 30 years.

The fecundity of the program is partly the fruit of a $15-million exhibition grant from the Broad Foundation, part of the rescue package for the museum's 2008 financial meltdown. The good news — and one of the reasons MOCA's exhibitions are distinctive — is that all six of these large-scale undertakings evolve directly from the museum's collection, as well as from a desire to tell histories of recent art from the specific perspective of Los Angeles.

The caveat? It's a shame the solo retrospectives include no women or people of color. That's a loss for a city whose feminist art history and astoundingly diverse populations ought to be well-represented. On that front, MOCA needs to do better.

On Monday the museum announced that New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch would become MOCA's fourth director, beginning June 1, so his stamp on the exhibition program won't begin to be felt until 2013. The  roster of all currently scheduled shows, including a few not mentioned above (and not quite fully fleshed out) can be found here. It is no doubt subject to some changes and possible additions.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Carlos Cruz-Diez, "Chromosaturacion," 2008, fluorescent light installation. Credit: Christopher Knight/Los Angeles Times

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