MOCA’s Grand Avenue location is open again, with several exquisite installations of their permanent collection highlighting photography, recent acquisitions and architectural themes, as well as a solo presentation of works by New York-based painter Jennifer Packer. Curatorial throughlines and the context of this past year’s events abound throughout the galleries, offering considerations of isolation, personal and collective memory, monumentality, physical presence and lived experience that resonate across a variety of periods, mediums and styles.

Jennifer Packer: Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep in particular encapsulates the pandemic experience not only in its content but in the timeline and evolution of the overall show itself. Packer is known for her interpretive, intensely gestural portraits at both large and almost miniature scale, as well as for smoldering, emotionally charged summer and autumn palettes whose florid radiance tells a deeper story than any more precise or realist likeness could.

Jennifer Packer, A Little Life, 2021, Oil on canvas, 22 1/2 x 18 in. (57.1 x 45.7 cm). Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, Corvi-Mora, London.

There’s something about these explosive yet contained portraits set amid a torrential swirl of auric energy that exists with special directness as an analogy for the lockdown experience. Packer’s show was planned to open in March of 2020; while its opening was postponed amid the onset of quarantine, throughout the ensuing year, she never stopped painting. This iteration of the exhibition features the initial selections, augmented by works created in the past “extra” year, some as recently as 2021.

Jennifer Packer, Idle Hands, 2021, Oil on canvas, 90 x 84 inches (228.6 x 213.36 cm), Purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition and Collection Committee. Image courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, Corvi-Mora, London.

While the emotional and psychological context of both her previous works and the making of new ones is powerful in itself, the fact that her process transformed by necessity from working from life to working from memory deepens the meta narrative of the work even further. The act of remembering our loved ones in an enforced separation from them, and the richness and terror of the inner lives of hope and fear that we were all spurred to explore alone in our rooms is given perfect formal manifestation in Packer’s fraught style and expressionistic scenes.

In surrounding galleries, a handful of permanent collections go hand in hand with these ideas. Evidence: Selections from the Permanent Collection is a wide-ranging assortment of work with a heavily narrative and symbolism-rich quality. Stars include an oddly irresistible and romantic 1996 video called Finding Gold by Tracey Emin, a drawing by Los Angeles-based artist Carmen Argote, Digesting Scroll – Feb, March, April (2020) which is the first work made during the pandemic to be acquired for MOCA’s collection, and the heart-breaking work of historical photography New York 1974 (1980s, Dye transfer print) by Helen Levitt.

Helen Levitt, New York 1974, 1980s, Dye transfer print, 12 × 15 7/8 in. (30.48 × 40.32 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, gift of Marvin Hoshino in memory of Masao Hoshino. © Film Documents LLC, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne.

Making Space: Recent Photography Acquisitions, as its title suggests, focuses on newly purchased work in the lens-based genres, offering a surprisingly eclectic array of vintage and contemporary works that touch on personal and journalistic narratives as well as materials and process-driven abstraction

Rodney McMillian, White House II, 2018-2020, vinyl and thread, 156 × 528 × 36 in. (396.24 × 1341.12 × 91.44 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, purchase with funds provided by the Acquisitions and Collections Committee, Karyn Kohl, and Maria Seferian. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Photo by Jeff Mclane.

Our House: Selections from MOCA’s Collection includes works from the 1950s to the present, and makes good use of the title’s pun. A room of richly hued Rothko paintings – an artist whose meditative masterpieces understandably came up a lot last year – as well as the monumentally scaled vinyl and thread wall work White House II (2018-20, 156 × 528 × 36 in.) by Rodney McMillian, the vibrant disco-vibe of Lauren Halsey’s re-imagined mutual aid architecture in Briccs 2 (2020), and the unexpected magic and delightful simplicity of the immersive colored-light rooms in Cromosaturación (1965/2012) by Carlos Cruz-Diez are all ready to welcome back audiences to the poignantly physical experience of art.

All exhibitions now open at MOCA Grand, 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown; free admission;

Jennifer Packer, Untitled, 2020, Charcoal and pastel on colored paper, 9 x 9 3/4 inches (22.9 x 24.8 cm). Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, Corvi-Mora, London.

Phan Quang, RE/cover no. 2, 2013, Digital C-print, 42 × 68 in. (106.68 × 172.72 cm), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Stephen O. Lesser.

LA Weekly