Welcome back to our third instalment of the millennial museum tours, where we take you on a jargon-free journey through the world’s most famous museums. Up next: a guide of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.
BTW, if you missed the first two, be sure to check out our L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA) and Louvre tours!
Unlike other tours out there, we make it fun and painless, putting the artwork into a context that you can actually relate to. Who says masterpieces have to be stuck in the past?
Just one of the many goodies you can buy at the MOCA giftshop, a scarf inspired by John Baldessari’s 1972 print. Amen to no more boring art, amiright, ladies?
In that spirit, let’s dive into some of the highlights of MOCA’s collection. Actually, MOCA has several locations around LA downtown, but today we’re tackling the main campus on Grand street (super close to Grand Central Market, a can’t-miss hubbub of some of the best food stands on the West Coast… but that’s another article).
All of these works are on view as of October, but since MOCA is constantly rotating its collection on view, some of these works might not be up each time you go. But that’s life.
One last note: the MOCA is stuffed with big names (lookin’ at you, Rothko and Giacometti), but since we’re all about the ladies, we focused on the female artists you might not know. And actually, MOCA has a really great collection of women and feminist artists—mad props, MOCA.
Am I sitting in on a tribal meeting of ancient scholarly pigs? Is that undigested lasagna giving me super strange dreams? Both?
If there’s one thing the plaque got right, it’s that this work definitely confounds your expectations. So let’s break it down. Capricorn is the tenth sign of the zodiac (peep our full astro guide here…), represented by a half-goat, half-fish. But Ernst, in classic surrealist fashion, put his own twist on the image and violà, we get a statue that looks straight outta Lord of the Flies. To be fair, I’ve never actually read the book, but there’s def something there.
Apparently Ernst dreamt this one up while living in the Arizona desert. Was it cosmic inspiration or a little bit of heat stroke? Who can say.
When you first see this work, your thought process might go something like this:
Omg, where’s the crying kid that just dropped his ice cream on the floor? And how the f*ck did the museum let someone in with ice cream?! Now that I think of it, an ice cream sounds perfect after the museum. I wonder where can I buy some around here…
But look at the materials list and you’ll discover that it’s not actually sherbet but poured polyurethane foam.
Benglis made this work as a jab at Pollock and the other Ab-Ex virtuosos of the previous generation of artists. If they can throw some paint on a canvas, call it an expression of their soul and sell it for millions, why not up the ante? So she poured a bunch of polyurethane foam on the floor of her studio and called it art. And that’s how her signature “pour pieces” were born. The more you know.
Untitled (#148-08) (2008)
You should know Rebecca Morris as the artist with the best artist statement of all time: “Abstraction never left, motherfuckers.”
Take a peek through her work and it’s obvious that she can put her money where her mouth is, creating visually appealing and stimulating abstract paintings at a time when abstract was out of vogue.
Tbh, the yellow strips kind of remind me of art class in elementary school when we taped over the paper before painting it, then peeled it off for funky effects. I’m sure Morris has a more sophisticated process (and would have a very strongly worded retort if she ever read this). But what’s wrong with art that takes you back to your youth? As they say, all’s fair in love, war and modern art.
At first glance, Coil Piece looks a little like a slinky made out of Tibetan prayer flags.
At second glance, it still looks a little like a slinky made out of Tibetan prayer flags. But it’s actually much deeper than that. Morton used bows, frills and bright colors to stick her middle finger up to the 70s art establishment, dominated by cool, minimalist forms. The “feminine” shapes and materials of this work make a huge girl power statement, because why should men get to define good taste?
It’s kinda against the rules to cover the same artist twice in one article, but this one was just too good to pass over. There was no handy plaque explaining this one, but let’s just go out on a limb here and make up our own interpretation—isn’t that what art is all about?
Going off of Coil Piece (and the whole vibe of the 70s), it’s not too much of a stretch to say that this work just might have a feminist message. The floating shapes look a little like a big fish about to swallow a smaller one, kind of like how women’s identities were swallowed up by the pressure of social roles (and the personalities of the men in their lives). “Run from the infatuated river,” Morton tells her fellow ladies, but they’re infatuated by the beautiful exterior of traditional femininity.
Many women were (and still are) “too bewildered to escape” the superficial trap of the patriarchy. After all, they were told their whole lives that they’re treasured, protected, honored and not repressed. And especially for a beautiful woman, it takes a lot of balls to give up all the love and attention showered on her and demand the freedom to become something more.
Did I just become an art historian? Oops.
This just might be one of the first girl gaze pieces. Semmel literally shows a woman’s body from her own perspective, adding in some funky, psychedelic visual effects to make it even more clear that we’re inside her head.
In one work, Semmel covers all the major themes of today’s feminism: sexuality, self-love, body posi, exploitation, objectification, etc. etc. etc. So next time you post a cute little Insta of your bikini line with a couple hairs poking out, à la Petra Collins, thank Joan for paving the way.
Feminist performance artist Barbara Smith made this sparkly work while she was fasting and meditating on a three-week retreat in San Francisco (don’t try this at home). Her work is all about food, nurturing, the body, spirituality and sexuality.
So what does that have to do with glitter?
The story goes that earlier, Smith had put a dead tree in an urban park and covered it in glitter and shellac. Then, to show that her fate and the fate of the tree (and the whole planet) were connected, she outlined her body and filled it with glitter too.
Unfortunately, before I read the plaque, the piece made me think of those Thanksgiving hand turkeys I made in elementary school, not the fate of the planet. Super cool idea though! Also a fun DIY art project for you and your friends next wine night…
Actually, this painting represents Brown’s spiritual quest. The destination? Herself… or her highest self, that is: the discovery of the inner divine being that lives inside of all of us. Brown was a serious yogi who studied under the famous spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda. She made the Nanda Devi series as she prepared to take a trip to the second highest mountain in India, a sacred Hindu site by the same name. Nanda Devi means “bliss-giving goddess,” so if that’s not enough to make you buy your ticket straight to New Delhi, I don’t know what will.
Moral of the story: sometimes those little plaques do have something interesting to say. But, let’s be real, only like 15% of the time. Do yourself a favor and learn how to skim like a pro.
So here you have it, nine great reasons to hit the MOCA next time you’re passing through L.A.! And plenty more where that came from…
In the meantime, stay tuned for our next millennial museum guide.
Photos via MOCA store, MOCA