Jasper Johns is a hard act to follow.
From February through May of this year, The Broad museum in downtown LA presented the most comprehensive work of the legendary American artist in more than two decades, and the first major survey of the artist’s work in Los Angeles.
It was very well received, both by the public and the press, setting the bar high for whatever might follow. Now in the same ground-floor galleries is “A Journey That Wasn’t,” culled from The Broad’s extensive permanent collection of post-war and Contemporary art.
This exhibition explores the passage of time, which is a pretty challenging topic. How do you depict what is largely an existential phenomenon, an ineluctable transition from one moment to the next? Forty of the 55 works on view have never been seen in public before, according to Joanne Heyler, founding director of The Broad. The co-curators of “Journey” are Ed Schad and Sarah Loyer, associate and assistant curators at The Broad, respectively.
The exhibit borrows its title from Pierre Huyghe’s video, “A Journey That Wasn’t” from 2006. He traveled to Antarctica in search of the albino penguin, capturing some intriguing scenes of penguins and vast, icy landscapes.
The show opens with Ed Ruscha’s acrylic on canvas diptych “Azteca/Azteca in Decline,” 2007. The diptych depicts a triangular Aztec mural in its original form on one wall, then the same mural imagined years later on the opposite wall, falling off and aging. Frankly, better-looking, more detailed Mexican murals abound in this region and in Mexico, although the graffiti is a clever touch. And Ruscha’s dilapidated, aged version is paltry compared with the artist’s proven accomplishments elsewhere with realism and detail.
Smaller and more pleasing to the eye are Ruscha’s acrylics on raw linen, “Bible,” “Atlas” and “Index,” all 2002. The artist has painted these books in the trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) style, and they look almost pristine (“Atlas”) to well-used (“Index”). Ruscha’s “Bible” looks like many a Bible in many a home — dignified, but not well thumbed through.
Huyghe’s video — the title track, as it were — is engaging at first. The Antarctica-bound protagonist shines some strange, flashing light bulb in front of a crowd of penguins, and they are as perplexed about the shenanigans as the viewer is.
Huyghe also re-created some Antarctic scenes in New York’s Central Park, with shots of a live audience observing the event. Why that audience is present is not entirely clear, resulting in a mixed effect.
Ron Mueck’s “Seated Woman,” 1999-2000, is a mixed media sculpture of an old woman in precise miniature. The hair, skin and clothing are so realistic, they’re eerie. This diminutive, hunched over woman with hands clasped certainly looks sad. One can stare and try to follow those eyes — which seem to move, they’re so lifelike — for quite a while.
In Janine Antoni’s “Mom and Dad,” 1994, the artist dresses her mother as her father, and vice versa, and takes three different portraits of them together. This piece has a comic element, and it’s fascinating how parents start to look like each other over time.
Glenn Ligon’s “Narratives,” 1993, features nine title pages from real and imagined novels, substituting story elements with the artist and his African American heritage. It’s inventive and a little chilling.
Elliot Hundley’s “Blinded,” 2009, is a large, exciting multimedia mural that exudes energy and color and is almost pointillist with the amount of pressure points and crazy detail.
Hundley is showcased again with “the high house low!,” 2011, a vivid, dynamic and textured collage on Kitakata paper. This extensive piece features a magnifying glass you can look through for augmented detail of a multi-hued figure, crouched over and getting ready to walk. Hundley’s inkjet print is spacy, extraterrestrial and far out. It’s definitely a highlight of the show.
Near the end of the exhibition is Ragnar Kjartansson’s installation, “The Visitors,” 2012. The nine-screened production of a live band performance in an upstate New York farmhouse is emotional and immersive. The artist, who himself is lying in a tub playing acoustic guitar, captures a band of musical friends at work and play in real time, and it’s kind of like being in a concert you can walk through in the dark. The Broad is bringing this popular installation back for the first time since the museum’s inaugural exhibition two years ago.
“A Journey That Wasn’t” is conceptually interesting, and time is certainly a tough topic to narrow into an effective theme, but aesthetically, it’s on the ho-hum and bland side. Perhaps some of us are biased in favor of seeing a little more beauty now and then. And some may have been spoiled by the awesomeness of “Jasper Johns.”
Regarding time, the organizers could have presented something more kinetic — e.g., Chris Burden’s frenetic “Metropolis II” on view at LACMA — or perhaps something more literally time-based, such as Christian Marclay’s inventive video “The Clock.”
Overall, this exhibit features several outstanding pieces and some very talented artists, but one can also borrow from the title of the show — a journey that wasn’t.
The Broad is presenting “A Journey That Wasn’t” through February 2019. The Broad is at 221 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. More information: www.thebroad.org
Founder: Louise Blouin