Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MOCA and Postwar Art

NOT long ago I snuck over to the Museum of Contemporary Art for the exhibit of its permanent collection. Am I crazy, or is this - dedicated to the years from 1940 to '80 -- one of LA's best shows of postwar art in the last few years?

The exhibit, of course, comes at a time when MOCA has just survived a major financial crisis that led to the resignation of its longtime director. Now, in the period right before the post is assumed by the New York gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, a show dedicated to the museum's permanent collection could just be a place holder -- or like being invited to a dinner party and served leftovers. But it's an eye-opening tour of the first few decades in which the U.S. -- and the West Coast in particular -- became an important capital of  contemporary art.

What I liked about the show is that besides a few obligatory pieces -- a Pollock drip painting, familiar Diane Arbus photos -- it's full of pieces that even a frequent museum-goer will not be sick of. Part of this is because of a leaning toward West Coast artists -- Diebenkorn, Ruscha, Robert Irwin, Wallace Berman -- who are rarely overexposed ever in West Coast museums.

But I won't lean too hard on California defensiveness here -- this show is catholic and intriguing no matter what one's geographic or generational orientation. My wife particularly likes the Adrian Piper piece, which was a bit hermetic for my taste, but I was glad to catch a sample of the artist's work.

(The only downside of the visit was that my favorite downtown eatery, the beer-and-sausages joint called Wurstkuche, was so entirely packed we had to move to a (perfect decent) Japanese place down the street.)

The show I took in is up in the museum's main space, on California Plaza, across from Disney Hall; I think it may move out of that space in April. I'm looking forward to returning to see the second half of the permanent collection, of work from the '80s to the present, in the more expansive Geffen Contemporary space.


Morgan said...

Full disclosure: you and the new director share an alma mater. ;)

Scott Timberg said...

True enough! Tho this show has nothing to do with him. Is he even out here yet? Be interested to see what he does with the place.