While it’s impossible to name favorites or see simple trends across a full year of eclectic arts features, it turns out that the eight weeks which saw art on the cover of the paper do form a capsule of the year that was 2021 in Los Angeles art; and several other memorable stories are worth a revisit, too — 21 for ’21, you might say.

From honoring the pioneering Black artists of comic books’ golden age to a music star exploring his spiritual and visual side, the advent of [gasp] NFT-ism and that ecosystem’s own struggles for progressive equity; from an appreciation for the legacy of a photographer who helped define L.A. (and L.A. Weekly) style to the expanded consciousness of an iconic rock photographer who changed the whole industry; from a preview of the Fall art season as a cautious celebration of what we’d been missing to an interview and exclusive from the luminous Lorna Simpson on the occasion of a show of new work downtown, and an interview with the legendary artist and educator Judy Baca during her career survey in Long Beach — this year was all about folks finding themselves, uncovering truer histories, and trying to make it all make sense. We’re proud to help tell those stories.

ken quattro invisible men

Ken Quattro’s Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books. 

In the introduction to his essential new title, Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books, author Ken Quattro writes in part, “My goal with each person profiled in this book is to provide context for their lives, the environment that formed them. There is a tendency to reduce a life to what a person does for money. One of the first questions asked when meeting a stranger is, ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ as if the entirety of a person’s hopes and dreams, tragedies and triumphs, beliefs and experience, is contained in their answer.” Quattro is correct of course, this convention afflicts social discourse at every level – but  when it comes to the life and work of the 18 Black men whose biographies, challenges and accomplishments in the postwar American comics industry, making those distinctions and contexts clear is even more salient. laweekly.com/ken-quattros-invisible-men.

Devendra Banhart: Painting at the Edges of Mythology.

Devendra Banhart’s strange and wonderful exhibition of recent paintings and drawings at Nicodim Gallery in downtown Los Angeles is a rogue’s gallery of surrealist avatars, a pageant of intimately scaled works awash in playful, mischievous mystery. From deceptively simple line drawings with an eccentric, Exquisite Corpse style to richly textured, penumbric paintings in which spirits emerge from the colorful ether, Banhart’s visual practice is both analogous to the freak folk energy of his music and at the same time comes from another universe entirely. As Banhart tells the Weekly, “the root of it all is poetry.” laweekly.com/devendra-banhart.

Is the Cryptoart Space the Utopia We Were Promised?

There’s no shortage of conversations both on and off Clubhouse about NFTs and cryptoart. But the most urgent, and the most interesting, are not the conversations about money. Rather, they are the ones around professional and creative freedom, access and inclusion. The cryptoverse is a promised utopia, an antidote to the ivory tower, market-driven art world with its well documented preference for work made by white men. Cryptoart is meant to be a setting where every viewer/collector is on a level playing field regardless of fluency in artspeak, and every artist is properly rewarded for their talents. So far though, it hasn’t fully turned out that way. laweekly.com/the-cryptoart-space.

The Jules Bates Artrouble Center Sorts Out a Legacy.

Photographer Jules Bates and the creative collective Artrouble were responsible for some of the most emphatic, energetic and indelible images of L.A.’s music, art and fashion nexus, encapsulating the exuberance of the punk into new wave scene circa 1980, and foreshadowing in their rampant interdisciplinary extravagance the collaborative zeitgeist of today. Before he died at just 27 years old in a motorcycle accident in September 1982, Bates had already achieved more legendary work than many artists make in decades. Now, his family and his alma mater have joined forces to preserve and disseminate his photo archive, as the ArtCenter College of Design gets set to open the Jules Bates “Artrouble” Center this fall, for the benefit of students and the public alike. laweekly.com/jules-bates.

Norman Seeff: Photographing the Invisible. 

“What is the nature of change and healing in the creative process? What is invisible in us?” muses Norman Seeff. “Photograph that.” Seeff has created some of the most recognizable images of iconic innovators in music and pop culture across the past five decades, and this week, a monumental selection of new prints of classic works goes on view in Los Angeles. But as his Sessions Project video series and nascent Power and Passion to Create foundation make clear, in some ways, his truer work exists on a higher plane that transcends portraiture to touch on the very essence of human creativity. laweekly.com/norman-seeff.

12 Must-See Exhibitions This Art Season.

Typically, an art world Fall season preview (not to mention the arts calendars covering the first three weekends of September) speaks to a flurry of activity. A raft of Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights divided into 15-minute segments, cross-town dashes and so much hugging. This year, things are a little different. Galleries are not entirely getting back into the opening reception game; and while many are, during the pandemic we’ve become accustomed to seeing shows on our own time during the weeks or months while they’re on view. This arrangement may lack the selfie-strewn intoxication of the opening night network, but it does offer a deeper and more mindful encounter with the art. I say keep that measured pace and safer, more intimate viewing energy going. laweekly.com/12-must-see-exhibitions.

Lorna Simpson: Everrrything is Illuminated. 

Artist Lorna Simpson moves between the micro- and the macro- but her work is always cosmic. Her current exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles is titled Everrrything and can rightly be said to encompass a whole universe — several universes actually. As a practical matter, there are sculptures, mixed media paintings, collage suites and moving pictures; materially there are found objects, as well as vernacular and original objects and images, recombined and produced with wood, stone, glass, fiberglass, ink, gesso, screenprinting, pastel, handmade paper, magazine pages, video and activated sound. laweekly.com/lorna-simpson.

Judy Baca Paints History in Living Color.

The first clue you’re in for something special with Judy Baca: Memorias de Nuestra Tierra, a Retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art, is the color. Emanating from the work and radiating from the walls, a supercharged, warm and vibrating palette scheme takes over every bit of wall and space; it truly is like walking into one of the paintings. Glowing yellow and deep crimson, royal blue and sun-kissed teal, fertile green and amber earth, highlights of lavender – across landscapes, historical vignettes, intimate personal portraits, performative and symbolic self-portraits, visionary scenes of spirit and magic, apparitions of ancestors, injustices, folklore, feminism, humor, protest and politics, Judy Baca’s palette is a prismatic experience. laweekly.com/judy-baca.


Of course, our favorite arts stories aren’t always on the covers… These further 13 features brings the list up to the Top 21 of ’21. Enjoy, and we can’t wait to see you next year!


Artist Enrique Martinez Celaya’s Winged Messengers

Birds Without Borders: The Audubon Society’s Mapping Migraciones

Fallen Fruit’s Endless Orchard Grows Boundless Optimism

Creative Activism Is On Special at The Plastic Bag Store

Amy Sherald Paints Everyday People

Umar Rashid Breaks It All Down

Elyse Pignolet Smashes the Patriarchy, Not the Porcelain 

Ariana Papademetropoulos and the Legend of The Emerald Tablet

Books for All the Art Lovers on Your Gift List

April Bey and Sanford Biggers Weave Powerful Stories at CAAM

Artist Tristan Eaton Plays the Game of Life

A New Film Presents M.C. Escher in His Own Words

Nick Brandt’s Portraits from the Ends of the Earth

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