Los Angeles Times: Two rewarding MOCA permanent collection exhibits map L.A. art

— and the museum’s limits

Christopher Knight

Sept. 5, 2023

Excerpt:

The trimmed story it tells unfolds slowly — and almost surreptitiously.

The first room houses some of the museum’s greatest knockout treasures, such as the 1949 Jackson Pollock drip painting “Number 1” and Robert Rauschenberg’s 1957 “Factum I” and “Factum II,” the almost-but-not-quite matched set of nearly identical, collaged Expressionist canvases. Enter the second gallery, where rigorous geometric abstract paintings by Bridget Riley, Billy Al Bengston, Jo Baer and Mary Corse and a sculpture by Larry Bell hold sway, and suddenly the prior room’s limitations are framed: There, only one of the 13 works was by a woman, painter Lee Krasner, and only one was by a non-New Yorker, painter Robert Colescott, who was also the only nonwhite artist. Room two expands West and East, to L.A. and Europe…

The next six galleries are constructed from an unequivocal curatorial commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, featuring a broad array of engaging works by artists who identify as Black, queer, AAPI, white, Latino, straight and more. More than half are works by women, an accurate reflection of working artists in the art world. The exhibition warrant is not touted in any wall texts, either exhorting or self-congratulatory; it’s just done.

This only matters, of course, if the artists and the chosen examples are good. Most are. Take these two.

Zoe Leonard’s blistering 1992 typescript, “I want a president,” is timely and prescient. The text, all typed on a single, fragile, slightly rumpled sheet of onionskin paper, begins, “I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president. I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.”

It continues on in that insistent vein of asserting art as an expression of human desire — some socially forbidden, some alienated, some available — for several hundred words. That typewriters were on the way out in 1992 lends an elegiac quality to her fury about life during the enervated presidency of plutocrat George H.W. Bush, as HIV infection became the leading cause of death among young men and in particular Black men.

Across the room, two large and lovely 2014 landscape photographs by Ken Gonzales-Day record trees where two among more than 350 California lynchings, a third of them murdering Latinos, took place between 1850 statehood and 1935. Gonzales-Day’s art is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A gnarled and withered tree set against verdant green hills and a lush and leafy one amid parched golden fields both look like paradise. The tension between what you know about these two places and what you see of them conjures an unsettling landscape filled with ghosts.

Social justice is a cultural watchword today. These and other works demonstrate how the subject has been so for generations of artists…”

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