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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has three new exhibits this month. They include two large summer exhibitions (“Playing with Fire” and “Doubleworld”) by artists who have not received such large scale museum displays and a showcase for new projects by 16 U.S. Latino and Latin American artists and/or collectives.
“Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz” includes 65 pieces from various phases of his career. “Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld” features approximately 70 photographs from 10 of her bodies of work that largely examine the role that photographic images play in contemporary culture. The third – “A Universal History of Infamy” – is a multisite exhibition from Latino artists whose practices reflect a range of media and perspectives drawn largely from literary sources.
The Almaraz exhibit opened August 6, but the others featured here open Sunday, August 20. They culminate a summer that has included several diverse exhibits at LACMA. Two join “Home – So Different, So Appealing” as early installations of the forthcoming Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (the invasion/far-reaching exploration of Latin American and Latino art that will blanket the area this fall with exhibitions at more than 70 Southern California sites).
Almaraz’ Eye-Jarring Works
The first major survey of paintings by Carlos Almaraz (1941–1989), the LACMA show features several thematic explorations of his career and will run through December 3, 2017. They include early Chicano civil right art, impressionistic paintings, fantastical works, scenes of disasters, and more.
The most compelling images depict a Los Angeles surging with visual energy. His pieces should the area as a mix of infinite possibilities and chaos. Almaraz saw the Echo Park area of the city as an urban Eden, where skyscrapers and dense cityscapes rise above scenic landscapes. This is most notable in his four-part “Echo Park Lake” from 1982. Each panel stands alone and is usually viewed as a separate painting. But, the quartet is reunited here to create a visual panorama for the first time in 30 years.
Charlesworth’s Photographic Imagery
Sarah Charlesworth (1947– 2013) worked on photographic series that went far beyond picture-taking and explored their concepts thoroughly. The LACMA exhibition is the artist’s first full-scale museum show in Los Angeles and runs through November 26, 2017.
In one series included at LACMA, Charlesworth appropriated images and placed them in bright monochromatic backgrounds (her “Objects of Desire” series created from 1983 to 1989). By separating the original images from their context, she portrayed objects in way that challenge viewers’ attitudes and consciousness toward the subject matter.
In another series, “Stills” (1980), she took images of people who jumped out of windows or off roofs. The result is a visually arresting and also mesmerizing (in a ghoulish way) view.
One other series included here is notable for its timeliness, given the “Great American Eclipse” coming August 21. Charlesworth did a series on “The Arc of Total Eclipse February 26, 1979.” It follows the northward path of that eclipse via pictures in local newspapers across the Pacific Northwest and into Canada. The order in which they are presented mimics the trajectory of the eclipse.
Infamy and Collaboration
With a title borrowed from Jorge Luis Borges’s collection of short stories, “A Universal History of Infamy” is a short-short compellation of artistic works with seemingly little in common except a sense of a cultural diaspora. However, the grouping by various artists using various media was part of a collaborative project and dialog with the artists in residency at the 18th Street Art Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
The complete exhibition is not fully unveiled as yet. The show will actually unfold across three venues: The “Universal History of Infamy” part at LACMA, a project by Vincent Ramos on display at Charles White Elementary School, and another display called “Virtues of Disparity” at the 18th Street Arts Center.
By Dyanne Weiss
LACMA: A Universal History of Infamy
LACMA: Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld
LACMA: Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz
Photo by Dyanne Weiss of Carlos Almaraz’ “Echo Park Lake” panels, © Carlos Almaraz Estate, courtesy of LACMA
Photo from “Stills” by Sarah Charlesworth courtesy LACMA: “Patricia Cawlings, Los Angeles, 1980,” printed 2012, The Art Institute of Chicago, Krueck Foundation and Photography Gala Funds, 2013.129, © 2017 The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth