By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Despite an uncomfortably crowded installation in a wing of the museum that may just be a lost cause — I can’t think of a show that’s actually looked good in the Hammer Building, with its tall, black, paneled ceiling and that dreadful carpet — “SoCal” is a satisfying sampler of a pivotal era in L.A.’s artistic ascendancy, packed with memorable works that just about stand up to the shoulder jostling: an ethereal projection/installation by Turrell; several powerful landscape(-ish) paintings by Lynn Foulkes; and a massive canvas by Norman Zammitt involving a sunriselike gradation of soft, sweet color, to name a few.
One of the most emblematic — and beautiful — is an untitled piece by Robert Irwin: a white disk, 60 inches in diameter, suspended a few feet in front of the wall, with lights positioned in such a way as to cast a hem of shadows around its perimeter, giving it the effect of an eerily hovering mandala. Accompanying wall text quotes Irwin explaining his motivation: “The question for the disks was very simple,” he says. “How do I paint a painting that does not begin and end at the edge but rather starts to take in and become involved with the space or environment around it?”
It struck me because it hit so closely on a thought that was nagging me throughout the Latin American show, which was itself a model of clean, formal, traditional museum installation, with each object carefully preserved and properly encased. Pleasing as the individual magnificence of each of these objects is, I found myself craving visual context, wanting to see into the space that would have originally surrounded them — into the negative space, one might say, of history. Would the walls have been stucco or brick? Would it have been light or dark, warm or cool? Would there have been smoke drifting by? Priests? Servants with platters?
On the one hand, these were objects intended to distinguish themselves (and their owners) from the confusion of their surroundings, and to assert a sort of command over that confusion: to establish the sovereignty, that is, of the colonial establishment. They are, for the most part, heavily, lavishly, strenuously framed — whether in actual picture frames, in altarpieces, in the architecture of cathedrals, or in the homes of the very wealthy. On the other hand, as this show very frequently makes clear, these frames are themselves permeable: Indigenous iconography floats in and out of the imagery; styles develop within particular communities that distinguish them from those of the Old World; local concerns creep in around the royal and religious symbolism.
Is there any work, ultimately, that is not “involved in the space and environment around it”? “The Arts in Latin America” suggests not.
THE ARTS IN LATIN AMERICA: 1492–1820 and SOCAL: Southern California Art of the 1960s and ’70s From LACMA’s Collection | Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. | (323) 857-6000 | Through Oct. 28 and March 30, respectively