By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
SECTION 2, 1920--1940:
“URBAN VISIONS, CONTESTED EDEN & REVISITING CULTURES”
The first thing you‘re presented with here is a large satirical painting by Barse Miller called Apparition Over Los Angeles (1932), which pokes fun at Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, and it sets the tone for the mostly idiosyncratic works that stand out in this section. Nearby is Millard Sheets’ Angel‘s Flight (1931), a vertiginous trashcan-school vignette of Bunker Hill. Find the tucked-away Coffeepot From Our America (1939) by Rockwell Kent and the adjacent droll landscape etching California Boom (before 1932) by Richard Day, and you’re free to move on to the next room. The mute industrial landscape Sepulveda Dam (n.d.) is the first of several unusual paintings by Edward Biberman. Except for the case of labor pamphlets and some interesting video clips of Upton Sinclair and the SFPD trying to break strikes, skip the labor room and move on to agriculture. It opens with an empty, luminous lettuce farm painted on a three-part screen by Rinaldo Cuneo, and then basically alternates between paintings and WPA photographs, beginning with a set of alternate takes of Dorothea Lange‘s iconic Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936). Millard Sheets also documents the Nipomo migrant camps in watercolor, and his circa-1935 oil painting California is worth a look. Also take in his Old Mill, Big Sur watercolor near Edward Biberman’s weird, glowing picture of the Mandalay Beach administrative offices. Henrietta Shore‘s The Artichoke Pickers (1936-1937) and Untitled (Cypress Trees, Point Lobos) (circa 1930) lead us from the cultivated fields back to the wilderness.
More landscapes, Ansel Adams -- skip it, buy a calendar. Clayton S. Price’s gestural seascape Coastline (circa 1924) anticipates the stylistic strategies of the Bay Area figuration in Section 3, and Knud Merrild‘s elegant, slyly erotic collage Exhilaration (1935) prefigures the 1980s work of Alexis Smith, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Two of the best works in Section 2 are right around the corner: Agnes Pelton‘s breathtaking Sandstorm (1932) and Chiura Obata’s untitled sumi-ink sketchbook, open to a dark, washy impression of a mountain forest. Soak these in, then jog through the next two galleries, pausing briefly at: Bernard von Eichman‘s small patchwork oil painting China Street Scene No. 1 (1923), Yun Gee’s Chinese-American expressionist Where Is My Mother (1926-1927), the sombrero fallout Textile Length from California Hand Prints, the wonky diorama of Diego Rivera‘s Allegory of California mural (be sure to stoop and ogle the ceiling), the adequate example of Frida Kahlo’s work, and Stiles Clements‘ architectural sketches for The Mayan Theatre Facade (1926-1927). Now stop, and turn back.
Beyond this doorway, though nowhere indicated, lies the permanent collection. Sneak a glance at that bitchen Matisse with the dog. Now quickly cut back through the “Early Modernism Environment,” chock-full of ugly varnished Schindler furniture. Pause halfway to contemplate the strange pink Souvenir Gloves (1930) by B.A. Payre, embroidered with the words “Los Angeles” and images of ... men competing at what appears to be the high jump. This calls for a martini. Head for Pentimento. Knock back a couple. If there isn’t a queue, now might be a good time to visit the always peculiar Liza Lou‘s Homette (1999-2000). Whether you’re a fan of her obsessively beaded domestic surfaces or not, this surprisingly grim take on noir-pulp masculinity will give you pause.
And pause we must. That‘s enough art for one day. Bear in mind that the museum’s next free day is December 12, and that on Monday, December 11, LACMA, as part of the “Made in California” concert series, will present The San Francisco Tape Center Revisited, a concert of experimental music from the legendary precursor to the Mills College scene, featuring compositions by Morton Subotnick, Tony Martin and Pauline Oliveros. Next week: Condensed Cream of “Made in California,” Part 2.
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