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When Helen Molesworth came to Los Angeles this year to replace Paul Schimmel as MOCA’s Chief Curator, many lauded her arrival as the museum’s saving grace. Her brilliant reinstallation of the permanent collection is proof that they were right. Molesworth breathes life into art that long felt staid and historicized. In the south galleries, which opened several months ago, Alberto Giacommetti’s male and female figures—who formerly stood side-by-side like an emotionally starved American Gothic—now face off, forming a dramatic double axis for opposition of Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner and their more famous male AbEx contemporaries: Kline, de Kooning, and Pollock.
In the north wing, unveiled last weekend, there are a few fan favorites, but what stands out are MOCA acquisitions rarely—if ever—shown, many of them by women and artists of color. In one room portraits by Marlene Dumas, Laura Aguilar, Cady Noland, and Sharon Lockhart meditate on the human form with an intimate intensity. Elsewhere Barbara Kasten’s colorful Construct NYC (1984) photos play off the jagged geometry of Elizabeth Murray’s Heart and Mind (1981); Liz Larner’s curvaceous cubes in 2 and 3 and Some, Too (1997-8) seem to mimic Warhol’s silver clouds in a Louise Lawler photograph that hangs above them.
In another room, Wangechi Mutu’s collage She’s Egungun Again (2005) and Chris Ofili’s nearby Monkey Magic (1999) both investigate the sexual and spiritual power of the diasporic African body. Walk a quarter turn around David Altmejd’s dark, queer work The Egg (2006) and you’ll find a tree branch from a nearby Laura Owens painting reflected in a mirror on the sculpture’s outer frame, neatly filling in the midsection of the synthetic pine branch within it.
Then there’s the sexual ribaldry of Robert Gober’s oversized, phallic Cigar (1991) in front of the labial latex skin of Kaari Upson’s Internal Pocket (2011). On the opposite wall Andrea Fraser revels in a moment of ecstatic frottage with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao lobby in Frank and His Carp (2001), what could be a witty jab at the “smooth and sensuous curves” of the new Broad Museum across the street. In contrast to the total absence of critical curatorial relationships in The Broad’s inaugural exhibition, the MOCA rehang is positively filled with precious moments. If any show in town deserves permanence, it’s this one.
The Art of Our Time runs from August 15, 2015–April 30, 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (250 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012)