In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers how the legacy of this spiritual freedom enables artists to make creative work as part of their practices.
The so-called global village gets a long, hard look in a new exhibition at The Broad in Los Angeles. With dozens of artworks culled from the museum's massive permanent collection of contemporary art, Oracle examines the complicated process by which various organizations expand worldwide, as well as the effects of international economic development on the earth's population.
On display in the museum's first-floor galleries are works by more than 20 artists, including Iranian-born Shirin Neshat and her dual-projection installation, Rapture. Through the immersive artwork filmed in Morocco, the US-based artist illustrates the effects of Islamic law by using nature and man-made design to symbolize the implementation of Sharia on Arab countries. Ericka Beckman's 32-minute film You The Better is another projection, this time comprised of 16mm film flanked by illuminated sculptures that critique the idea of gaming by highlighting the lack of agency in the players.
Born in Ethiopia and based in New York City, Julie Mehretu offers another perspective on the Arab world with Cairo. Using ink and acrylic, the artist represents the capital of Egypt as a chaotic modern metropolis that's steeped in ancient history. The painting is a meditation on the city during the Arab Spring, when a wave of demonstrations followed a civil-resistance campaign in Tunisia. It was in the mosques of Cairo where conscientious objectors gathered to facilitate protests and social-media campaigns that brought the world's attention to the wave of revolutions that spread to Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.
Just as with Mehretu, LA-based Mark Bradford's contributions serve as abstracted maps, only rendered as mixed-media collages that examine both geographic and social frameworks. The map-inspired works thus create a dialog with the exhibition's other pieces, including a pair of paintings by living legend Terry Winters, which are a reflection of the artist's own fascinations with math and science.
"'Globalization' is a term now in the forefront in politics and the media, but for decades, contemporary artists have represented it in their work, responding to and decoding its many forms," The Broad's founding director, Joanne Heyler, said in a statement. "Oracle looks at how artists have anticipated the forces that have real consequences in our daily lives yet can be obscured from direct view."
One of the most engaging aspects of Oracle is the contentious interplay between the contemporary and the traditional, both in form and subject matter. Classical media is used to illustrate modern themes, while technology is wielded as a tool in order to offer new vantage points on ancient systems. For instance, Thomas Ruff's series of enlarged and pixelated jpegs is an abstract commentary on diminishing human responsiveness, aiming to restore compassion and tolerance in the world. Thematically, Ruff's series corresponds to Tauba Auerbach's work Shadow Weave—Chiral Fret Wave, which makes its Los Angeles debut. Recently acquired by the Broad, Auerbach's piece literally weaves strips of black and white canvas together in order to examine the practical and intellectual study of behavior and structures while combining layers and texture to create a multidimensional view of both itself and the world.
Also on exhibit for the first time in Los Angeles, trade today by London-based artist Oscar Murillo features an octet of suspended canvases that resemble flags. Here, Colombian-born Murillo investigates the mechanics of modern distribution by highlighting the effects of diminishing local economies. Likewise, German artist and academic Andreas Gursky delivers a jaw-dropping outlook on our obsession with instant satisfaction in his 13-foot photograph, "Amazon." The image captures an Amazon.com warehouse in sharp detail, with miscellaneous commercial items colorfully arranged in no particular order, yielding a crowded impression of a space that's otherwise devoid of humans.
Other works on view include a display of German artist Albert Oehlen's apocalyptic paintings, as well as works by Jenny Holzer, Jeff Wall, and LA artist Sterling Ruby, whose two-paneled spray-painted canvases represent a failed utopia. In the end, Oracle offers an aesthetic appeal beneath which lurks a provocative undertone, challenging the audience's assumptions about global safety, surveillance, freedom, and power.
Oracle is on view at The Broad April 29–September 3. Also in conjunction with the exhibition are a series of related programs, including a film series, a feminist performance by Alexandro Segade, and hands-on family-friendly workshops. Visit the installation collection's website here.