Tree of Life by Mark Ryden

A show comprised of 250 works of art made by 146 different artists filling both the Grand Avenue and Geffen building, this exhibit rambles through the years and various schools.  The show represents artists of the LA community and is a bit unwieldily.  Other than assembling a huge array of artists that work in LA, there is little continuity in the show even though the artists are grouped by school in an effort to make some sense of this many headed monster.  There are a couple of – What the hell? moments too, as I wondered why recent LA transplant Devandra Banhart most famous for dating Natalie Portman and playing folk music, is included at the end of the show.  With that said, there is plenty to see and be excited about.  Like a gigantic Whitman Sampler box of chocolates, you will find a few pieces you’ll spit out and much that you will want to devour.  There are staples that belong in any LA show like John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha but also some spicy choices like Robbie Conal, Jack Goldstein, Robert Williams, Elliot Hundley and Mark Ryden.

Preview 1988 by Allen Ruppersberg

In some ways the show is like meandering through Los Angeles’s last few decades.  Much of my favorite pieces are from artists I saw in the streets or in zines in the 80’s like Allen Ruppersberg, Robbie Conal and Raymond Pettibone.  I remember the humor of Ruppersberg’s text posters as they sat amid punk and weight loss ads.  Conal’s political commentary was always a relief in contrast to the Morning in America mentality that washed over the country and neglected the real problems in our society.  Pettibone’s work was born in the underground punk scene and rebelled against traditional art school influences, instead being a part of a new breed taking their cues from pop culture and comic books.

Contra Diction by Robbie Conal
Vavoom by Ron Pettibone

Other favorites are fantastical landscapes by Laura Owens, Mark Grotjahn’s gestural abstractions and Mike Kelley’s thought provoking social commentary.

Untitled 2000 by Laura Owens
(Untitled) Pink White Over Grey Face 841 by Mark Grotjahn
Pay for Your Pleasure by Mike Kelley

Mike Kelley’s piece presents 40 banners containing portraits of famous artists, writers and poets with quotes from each, while a single painting by John Wayne Gacy hangs with them.  The quotes are themed around creativity and criminal thinking and juxtaposed with the ultimate criminal’s so called artwork, and many questions about society and it’s relationship to art are aroused.  And that’s what this show does best, give you much to consider on many different levels.  Whether it’s the symbolism and mythology interlaced with childhood imagery of Mark Ryden or the contrast set up by Mike Kelley, you will find much to contemplate and visually appreciate.

The show runs through January 31 at The Museum of Contemporary Art.

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