See also:

*L.A. Art History Lessons on Twitter, in Emoji Form

*Our Calendar Section, Listing More Great Things to Do in L.A.

This week, an array of icons — cowboys, the president, an unforgettable AIDS activist — appear in art on view and three performers laugh all afternoon at LACMA.

5. Art detective

Victoria Reed is curator for provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which means she tracks down the origins of suspicious artworks. She has investigated lost, smuggled or looted masterpieces; brushed art for Nazi fingerprints; and recently returned art stolen half a century or more ago to a family in Poland and a museum in Trento in Italy. She'll talk about her work at the Getty. 1200 Getty Center Drive; Thurs., Feb. 28, 7 p.m.; free, reservations recommended. (310) 440-7300, getty.edu.

4. The last Americans

The overtold story goes like this: Artist Richard Prince was working at Time-Life in 1980 in the tearsheets department, where he would “tear” advertisements out of published magazines to prove to clients they'd been published. Almost every magazine he paged through had a Marlboro cowboy in it somewhere. Prince started rephotographing these cowboys, a classic icon of rugged Americana that seemed now to exist almost only in these cigarette ads. Prince has returned to cowboys a few times and his new show at Gagosian Gallery is full of them: cowboys on horseback, cowboys with lassos or cowboys in bellbottoms, all printed onto canvas with pastel-colored sunsets, desert ground or grassy fields painted around them. 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills; through April 6. (310) 271-9400; gagosian.com.

3. Activist art that hurts

Artist David Wojnarowicz's videos from the early 1990s are political artworks that don't feel dogmatic at all — they attack AIDS-era government with a vengeance so visceral and vulnerable that they make politics seem like gut-spilling. Watching them, the intensity of feeling and the haunting images — of ants crawling over a crucifix, for instance, or of a snake and its prey — will make you uncomfortable no matter what your political leanings. Wojnarowicz's Fire in My Belly shows at REDCAT, along with other artists' work, as part of the screening “Queer Sex Works: Money Power Sex.” 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Mon., March 4, 8:30 p.m.; $10. (213) 237-2800, redcat.org.

2. Role models

Novelist Alice Childress titled her 1973 young-adult book, about 13-year-old Benji who's sure he can stop using heroin anytime, after something Benji says: “A hero ain't nothing but a sandwich,” the implication being, of course, that heroes don't count for much these days. Nery Gabriel Lemus took the same title for his current show at Charlie James Gallery. In it, there's a tapestry in which an adolescent boy's head floats in front of a host of heads belonging to men of note, like Barack Obama, Kanye West, Star Trek's Mr. Spock and Spider-man. Another tapestry shows a maroon hoodie from behind and has white words running across it: “He ceased calling women bitches, he viewed them as sisters in the Lord. He glorified righteousness instead of bling. … The Children Actually Had a Hero.” 975 Chung King Road; through March 30. (213) 687-0844, charliejamesgallery.com.

1. Laughing to tears

When artist-choreographer La Ribot stages Laughing Hole, it begins like this: Three performers in solid-color dresses walk into a room with nearly 1,000 cardboard signs spread across the floor. The performers begin to laugh and keep laughing as they drop to the ground, search for signs and hold them up so that the audience can see. A sign might say “Clean Here,” “For Mum” or “Please Die.” Performers hang the signs on walls, always laughing, sometimes posing and pirouetting with their signs for some time before taping them up. The whole affair takes hours, so that laughing begins to sound like sobbing, and audiences cycle in and out. La Ribot has brought Laughing Hole to Barcelona, Basel and Brussels, among other places, and brings it to the Broad Contemporary building at LACMA this weekend. 5905 Wilshire Blvd.; Sat., March 2, 12:00 p.m.; free. (323) 857-6010, lacma.org.

See also:

*L.A. Art History Lessons on Twitter, in Emoji Form

*Our Calendar Section, Listing More Great Things to Do in L.A.

Follow me on Twitter at @cgwagley, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

LA Weekly