A recent trip to Downtown Los Angeles brought me to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). It’s right across the street from one of the larger museums, The Broad. I would say you could get through the MOCA in about an hour or two, depending on how intensely you want to examine each piece, so you could make it part of your day trip, or combine it with a trip to The Broad. Either way, there are some really amazing pieces to check out. I especially appreciated that fact that some of the paintings had descriptions giving context, history, and influences behind the works. It helped me put the piece into perspective, and made me more appreciative of what the artist was trying to convey. Below are some quick snaps I took of a few of my favorite paintings and installations.
Red (If They Come in the Morning), 2011
Acrylic on Canvas
Rennie Collection, Vancouver, Canada
Marshall’s monumental canvas Red (If They Come in the Morning) entwines three specific references. First, the colors refer to the Pan-African flag, a symbol of black nationalism and resistance: red stands for blood and sacrifice, black the color of the people, and green the fertility of Africa. Second, the words emerging from the red field are taken from novelist James Baldwin’s open letter written in 1970 to activist Angela Davis while she was in prison. Baldwin pleads, “we must fight for your life as if it were our own,” concluding, “For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” Silence in the face of racism and injustice, Baldwin warns, is not only criminal, but suicidal too. Finally, the painting references Barnett Newman’s abstract expressionist paintings from the 1950s, in which massive fields of color are punctuated by narrow bands of contrasting color called “zips.” While Marshall harnesses the emotional power of Newman’s most famous works by saturation the viewer’s vision with an intense field of color, he also insists on suffusing abstraction with radical politics.
“monument” for V. Tatlin, 1969
Eight standard wight fluorescent light tubes and their mental fixtures comprise Dan Flavin’s minimalist sculpture. The use of everyday materials, a common strategy of minimalist artists, served to overcome the gap that normally separates an art object from its viewers. Flavin’s work generates ambient light that reaches into the viewer’s space. The form, resembling a skyscraper, refers to a never-realized, but nonetheless influential, monument to an organized supporting Communist revolution designed by the Russian constructivist artist Cladimir Tatlin in 1920. It was to be a spiraling steel framework thirteen hundred feet tall in which rotating glass rooms would be suspended. Though utterly impractical engineering-wise, it remains an influential symbol of the artist’s efforts to combine art and technology. Flavin’s “monument,” despite its low-tech, small-scale nature, pays homage to Tatlin’s futuristic, utopian ideals.
Kline’s gestural compositions combine the intimacy of a small, flick of the wrist ink sketch, with the bodily scale of a dynamic, expressive “action painting.” Often executed with wide house-painting brushes, Kline’s start painting and drawings epitomize the bold, free-form gestures and allover compositions associated with abstract expressionism. Despite seeming improvised, the artist arrived at his signature style after seeing one of his smaller calligraphic sketches enlarged via a projector and then copying the composition at the larger scale. In fact, the artist made many preparatory sketches for each painting, using telephone book pages as inexpensive drafting paper. Kline – along with fellow New York School painters Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, and Willem de Kooning – advocated for a direct relationship between the mind and the hand, the autonomy of painting, and the expressive power of the gesture.
When Frustration Threatens Desire, 1990
Kerry James Marshall
The MOCA isn’t as popular as some of the other museums in DTLA, like LACMA, or The La Brea Tar Pits, but I think it’s absolutely worth checking out.
Have you been before? What’s your favorite local museum?