Carlos Almaraz, Echo Park Bridge at Night (1989)EXPAND
Carlos Almaraz, Echo Park Bridge at Night (1989)
The Buck Collection through the University of California, Irvine, © Carlos Almaraz Estate, photo by Isabella McGrath

2017's Best and Most Notable Art Exhibitions and Events

A new year is rapidly approaching, thank our Higher Power. Is it just me, or did 2017, in general, largely suck?

Before we pop open bottles of Champagne, kiss our sweeties and place bets on another political upheaval, it's time to take a moment and reflect on the best and most notable art exhibitions, experiences and events of 2017.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA was the movement that couldn't be missed. Nearly every major art institution in Los Angeles — and quite a few in Orange County, Santa Barbara, San Diego and other SoCal spots — had some sort of PST: LA/LA thing going on. The extensive, well-funded — it was sponsored by the Getty Foundation — initiative exploring Latino and Latin American art seemed particularly appropriate, given the ongoing political debates about immigration, diversity, language and "America first."

Here, in no particular order, are the best and most notable art exhibitions and events of 2017:

"Playing With Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz," Los Angeles County Museum of Art. LACMA presented the first major survey of Almaraz, a crucially important Mexican-American artist and co-founder of the Chicano art collective known as "Los Four."

In this PST: LA/LA exhibition, we witnessed cars crashing into one another on freeway overpasses and exploding; suburban L.A. houses set ablaze; expressionist fiestas in fauve and neon colors; and beautiful, vivid L.A. sunsets over Echo Park, making the lake, trees and hills shimmer with bright, transcendent beauty and tranquility.

Almaraz died from AIDS in 1989 at age 48, but his legacy of art and activism will endure for generations to come.

"Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985," UCLA Hammer Museum. This is a huge and timely group exhibition featuring 116 artists and more than 260 works from 15 countries. Many of the works involve political themes, from repression and dictatorship to the female body, physical and psychological boundaries, and violence. Most of the art is nontraditional and experimental, eschewing painting for performance, video, installation and conceptual pieces.

This PST: LA/LA show was organized by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, who used to work at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, and Andrea Giunta, a professor of art history at the University of Buenos Aires.

Catch this massive show while you can — it's up through Dec. 31. And remember, the Hammer is always free. (No jokes about Hammer Time allowed.)

"Martin Ramirez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation," Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Here's more evidence that you can be confined in a mental institution for 25 years and still produce great art. Ramirez, ultimately diagnosed as a schizophrenic, was a self-taught artist and draftsman, and his intricate, sometimes surreal, occasionally monumental works are remarkable. He proved that matchsticks, crayons and sheets of found paper are not just for kids. Fifty of his drawings and collages are on view through Dec. 31.

This PST: LA/LA show is an inaugural exhibition for the ICA LA, which used to be known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art, formerly at Bergamot Station. Since September, ICA LA has been housed in a bright yellow building in DTLA's Arts District, and it's free. It's a great addition to the neighborhood.

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009EXPAND
Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009
Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner , New York. ©Yayoi Kusama

"Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors," the Broad. This may be the most popular and Instagrammed exhibit in Southern California. While it is sold out, and has been overrun with millennials, tourists and smartphone-toting hipsters, it represents a pinnacle of immersive, experiential art, which has undeniably been on the rise.

Japanese artist Kusama is interested in infinity, as well as the relationships between people, society and nature. If you count yourself as one of the absolutely determined, same-day tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis through Jan. 1. Adult standby tickets are a steep $30, but children 12 and younger are free (tickets still required). If you'd rather avoid the crowds and observe from afar, check out #InfiniteLA on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Shepard Fairey at workEXPAND
Shepard Fairey at work
Courtesy Obey Giant Art. Photo by Jon Furlong

"Damaged," Shepard Fairey, LSC Gallery. Fairey — the man behind "Obey" — has become the face of Los Angeles street art, despite many other worthy efforts. "Damaged" was his largest-ever solo exhibit, featuring new works done since the election of President You-Know-Who. The show was a collaboration with Detroit-based gallery Library Street Collective.

"Apathy is a really big problem, and choosing sides via social media is not enough," Fairey told L.A. Weekly in November. "You actually need to vote and be rigorous about understanding the deeper dynamics of issues that matter to you."

Needless to say, Fairey's works in "Damaged" were deeply political and inspired by social movements, particularly those led by people of color. His "We the People" series, included in this show, was a collaboration with L.A.-based Chicana photographer Arlene Mejorado (Trina Calderón profiled Mejorado for L.A. Weekly in September).

"Tattoo: An Exhibition," Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Yes, tattoos are cool. But this exhibition examines 5,000 years of skin art from all reaches of the globe. This show (running through April 15) offers the opportunity to learn about the history of ancient and modern tattoos, as well as techniques, rituals, ceremonies and tools of the trade. Who knows? Your next tat design may await in these halls.

"Building Material: Process and Form in Brazilian Art" and "Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999-2011," Hauser & Wirth. "Building Material" was an important examination of three generations of Brazilian artists, along with the materials and processes they used.

Kelley continues to be a giant in contemporary art, despite (or maybe because of) his suicide in South Pasadena in 2012. This collection (on view through Jan. 21) is the first comprehensive survey of his "Kandors" series, which consists of sculptures, videos and large-scale installations. Kelley took the imagery and mythology of Superman and reworked it to contemplate loss, power and memory.

Incidentally, Hauser & Wirth lost an important figure in February. Former curator and director Paul Schimmel, whom many remember as longtime chief curator at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, left the gallery under mysterious circumstances. No public comments were made at the time. If anyone knows what Schimmel's up to now, please drop me a line.

"Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas," Getty Center. By all accounts, this collection of gold and luxury arts from 1000 B.C. to the arrivals of the Europeans in the early 16th century has been a dazzling blockbuster (on view through Jan. 28). If you think nothing spectacular and glamorous occurred in the ancient Americas before Columbus, check this out and adjust your head. Also, here's proof that the artistic exchange of ideas and materials from North America to the tip of Chile occurred long before the steam-powered engine hurtled people and goods from coast to coast.

Also worth noting: The Skirball Fire, which burned 422 acres in the poshest parts of L.A. earlier this month, threatened the Getty Center and the Skirball Cultural Center. Yet no art or museums were damaged.

"The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty," the institution's vice president of communications told the L.A. Times at the time. Wow, really? There must be some expensive underground vault/tunnel action happening there at the art castle upon a hill.

Much more happened in 2017, but with 2018 bearing down on us, we look forward, not back. Happy New Year, everybody!

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