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'Creature' is a smart exhibition at the Broad museum

'Creature' is a smart exhibition at the Broad museum
Thomas Houseago's 2011 bronze "Giant Figure (Cyclops)," shown in detail, is a 15-foot-tall mash-up of everything from a Greek kouros to a sci-fi Transformer. (The Broad)

“Creature” is the second special exhibition assembled since the Broad museum opened in its flashy downtown L.A. digs 14 months ago. Drawn entirely from its permanent collection, the show assembles roughly 60 paintings, sculptures, photographs and mixed-media works by about two dozen artists.

The creature theme is approached very loosely. Not exactly a compendium of old-fashioned figurative art, the works are in some way related to living beings.

Creatures lurk in the colossal flayed skin of raw, unstretched, paint-scraped canvas in Leon Golub’s six great paintings of sadistic torturers and thugs, as well as in Jenny Holzer’s black-granite sarcophagus chiseled with the same wordy laments that scroll by in a flashing LED sign. Human presence, after all, is embodied in any work of art.

In fact, “Creature” seems less like a thematic exhibition meant to unravel a curatorial thesis than simply a handsomely arranged, smartly installed selection from the Broad’s nearly 2,000-work collection. The best part is the way individual objects are placed to talk to one another in the galleries. That’s not as easy to pull off as it looks.

Within its 15-foot-tall form, Thomas Houseago’s monumental bronze “Giant Figure (Cyclops)” collapses an ancient Greek kouros (or nude male youth), a self-sacrificing Rodin “Burgher of Calais,” Michael Rennie’s clanking robot bodyguard, Gort, from “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a child’s Transformer toy and more. This fragmented artistic history is mimed in the sculpture’s disjointed forms: The cast-bronze sculpture’s original slabs of wrapped clay look like a mummy’s bandages.

"Creature" installation view.
"Creature" installation view. (The Broad)

Some think the ancient myth of a one-eyed Cyclops originated from archaic Greek guilds, where eye-patch wearing blacksmiths practiced their dangerous craft. Houseago’s bronze colossus looms as an ancestral emblem for his art.

The 2011 sculpture stares across the room at Cecily Brown’s 1999 painting “Tender Is the Night,” which trembles at the blurred line between abstract and figurative art. With its seriocomic title mixing Hollywood neuroses and lusty romance, a juicy orgy of slashing pink, ochre and yellow paint dissolves into writhing suggestions of buttocks, bosoms and exhausted bodily heaps.

Brown taps into Baroque and Expressionist art’s history of sex and violence. It also draws on more recent stylistic flourishes from Joan Mitchell, Susan Rothenberg, Sue Williams, Georg Baselitz and other artists who sought to upend that history’s dominant motifs.

Her luscious painting is smartly installed just after Bruce Nauman’s  gruesome 1990 ring of suspended, cast-wax severed-heads and adjacent to a Baselitz “fracture painting” from 1966. There, figures of a hunter and his prey are cut up and intermingled. A poetic loop back to Houseago’s chopped-up Cyclops is complete, making for one of several edifying reverb moments in the show.

The Broad, 221 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Through March 19; closed Mondays. (213) 232-6200, www.thebroad.org

christopher.knight@latimes.com

Twitter: @KnightLAT

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