The experience of art in Los Angeles is always both very specific to its localized encounter and acutely conscious of its engagement with the world. As political forces outside California moved to further isolate us in 2017, that dialogue and artists’ sensitivity to the global implications of their work have only intensified. To move through the many memorable art shows this past year in Los Angeles was to feel positioned simultaneously atop a desiccated California riverbed and the cracking Antarctic ice shelf. While many of us reeled into this year in commingled disbelief, dislocation and dejection, the best of these shows looked to a point of consciousness both informed by and well past these dislocations and disruptions. It was a year of both revelatory confrontation and rediscovery, frequently in the same show. Much of the work in these highlighted shows was in preparation long before this past year or even the entire 2016 political year. Nevertheless, each, on one or multiple levels, responded trenchantly to the contemporary moment—even those that looked back to a historical moment long past.
1. Patrick Martinez: All Season Portfolio
Charlie James Gallery / January 14–February 18
If you were feeling as if your political future had been hijacked this past January, Martinez’ All Season Portfolio had some “Useful Information” for you—including the Miranda warning; but somewhere between the cops and the freshly ‘Mirandized’ plaster rosettes and neon glow, the playground of dreams continued to expand in pace with the rest of the universe.
2. Rachel Lachowicz: Lay Back and Enjoy It
Shoshana Wayne Gallery / January 21–March 25
Lachowicz took what has become a signature material for her to the furthest conceptual (and arguably physical) limits with a show that was breathtaking in scope from the most elemental (claim of habitat) to the most ambitious and abstract (notions of order, progression and moral hierarchy, and more urgently, the gendering of order and hierarchy). This was a lipstick trace to set a town on fire—and we enjoyed it.
3. Moholy-Nagy: Future Present
LACMA / February 12– June 18
A telescope for a moment that might mirror our own—the title summed up the method and spirit of this brilliant show and its subject, an artist who saw through and embraced cultural and technological disruptions with a view towards the infinite.
4. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry
MOCA Grand Avenue / March 12–July 3
The title of Marshall’s mid-career retrospective was itself a kind of throw-down to western culture—going to the core of the canon and even the terms and criteria by which we form such constructions and judgments—what is revealed and what left undisclosed. As Helen Molesworth put it, “You can’t resolve this; you can only be with this.”
5. Forrest Bess/Joan Snyder
Parrasch Heijnen / May 13–June 24
An existential conversation of two master painters across time and sensibility on that shared terrain that registers place, with its delicate counterpoint of correspondences and contradictions—this was one of the most enigmatic and quietly compelling of 2017’s shows.
6. Marisa Merz: The Sky Is A Great Space
Hammer Museum / June 4–August 2
Less a retrospective than the manifestation of a presence and influence that had always been with us—if somewhat obscured behind the Arte povera movement as a whole in which she was a significant player—the Merz show had an ethereal but revelatory power with a sostenuto as expansive as, well, the sky.
7. Sayre Gomez: Déjà Vu
Ghebaly Gallery / October 14–November 18
We have been here before, as the title indicated; but Gomez showed us a “here” vacated of any real “now” in this dark show—with a “view” to an exterior that mirrored a no less pernicious erosion of consciousness in the culture beyond its immediate parameters.
8. Kim Dingle: YIPES
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects / October 14–November 11
It’s a small world in a chaotic universe—and with an oversized tantrum-throwing toddler in the U.S. capital magnifying the ‘butterfly effect’ to the power of ten, Dingle brought her own ‘Priss’ and trademark companions to wreak havoc with process-as-usual and dig her (their/our) magnificent way out of the cake and into a pre-nuclear dawn.
9. Kelly McLane: Peckerwoods
Denk Gallery / October 21–November 22
Consciousness seeps in subversive layers from these lacerating paintings and drawings, reaching deep into the fissures of a culture in distress. McLane’s show—her first in LA in several years—would not presume to offer a hollow transcendence, but in its multi-dimensional scope delivered seismic impact.
10. Engender (group show, curated by Joshua Friedman)
Kohn Gallery / November 11–January 13
Moving well past a theme dominant in recent contemporary fine (and popular) art, Friedman’s brilliantly curated (and gorgeous) show of painting saw us through to a deeper, more complex and nuanced—and richly generative—consideration of identity in the 21st century.
The Ecstasy of Mary Shelley
(group show curated by Virginia Broersma, Nick Brown & Kio Griffith)
Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971
Lesley Vance: 12 Paintings
David Kordansky Gallery
Anna Maria Maiolino
MOCA Grand Avenue
Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985
Editor’s Note: The numbering of the picks is not intended to reflect any ranking.