Christopher Knight’s best art exhibitions of 2019: Lari Pittman, Sarah Lucas and more

2019 year in review for art
(Peter and Maria Hoey / For The Times)

Contemporary art and solo retrospectives again dominated the schedules of Southern California’s art museums, punctuated by a few outstanding historical surveys. Here are 10 unusually memorable museum exhibitions, plus some honorable mentions, from the year now ending, arranged in chronological order of their openings. Four are still on view.


‘Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968-2018’

UCLA Hammer Museum, Feb. 10-May 12

Allen Ruppersberg's "The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg's Howl by Allen Ruppersberg
Allen Ruppersberg, “The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl by Allen Ruppersberg (Parts I-III).” Commercially printed letterpress posters.
(UCLA Hammer Museum)

The deeply engaging, 50-year retrospective of L.A.-based Conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg provided a sundry catalog of art’s dilemmas, big and small — how to grapple with nature, technique, success, symbolism and more.


‘Charles White: A Retrospective’

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Feb. 17-June 9

Charles White's "General Moses (Harriet Tubman)," 1965, ink on paper.

A movie (in theaters now) about Civil War icon Harriet Tubman is certainly a good idea but what’s better than “General Moses,” the monumental 1965 drawing of the Union Army spy and Underground Railroad heroine as an immovable mountain and ancestral muse in the bracing survey of work by Charles White?


‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963-1983’

The Broad, March 23-Sept. 1

Faith Ringgold, “The United States of Attica,” 1971-72, offset lithograph
Faith Ringgold’s “The United States of Attica,” 1971-72, offset lithograph.
(Pablo Enriquez / The Broad)


As a movement launched in the 1960s, black American art has languished in an institutional blind spot. Thanks go to a British art museum, London’s Tate Modern, for telling a distinctly American story in 145 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and prints by more than 60 artists.


‘Art and Empire: The Golden Age of Spain’

San Diego Museum of Art, May 18-Sept. 2

Diego Velazquez's "Kitchen Maid With the Supper at Emmaus," 1619-20, oil on canvas, at the San Diego Museum of Art.
(San Diego Museum of Art)

This first full survey of mostly 17th century religious and secular art from Spain’s European, American and Asian territories, crowned by three incisively chosen paintings by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, was a marvelous introduction to a vast topic that has often been examined only piecemeal.


‘Buried by Vesuvius: The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum’

Getty Villa, June 26-Oct. 28

A Roman fresco featuring an architectural landscape, about 40 BC. Plaster and pigment 65 cm by 84 cm, found in the atrium area in 1754, displayed as part of "Buried by Vesuvius" at the Getty Villa.
(Giorgio Albano / Museo Archeologico Nazionale Naples)

Thirty-four sculptures plus fresco fragments excavated from the ruins of a famous volcanic eruption outside Naples, Italy, in AD 79 found temporary refuge in the Getty Villa — a contemporary approximation of the ancient seaside house that held those very objects on the fateful day when the lava poured in.



‘Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel’

UCLA Hammer Museum, June 9-Sept. 1

Sarah Lucas, "Au Naturel," 1994. Mattress, melons, oranges, cucumber and water bucket.
(Sadie Coles HQ)

British artist Sarah Lucas is a burlesque maker of double-entendre objects that mow down stereotypes, often around art and sexuality, while often glancing off the inescapable fact of death.


‘Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence’

UCLA Hammer Museum, Sept. 29-Jan. 5

Lari Pittman, Untitled #5, 2010. Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl and spray paint on gessoed canvas over wood, 102 inches by 88 inches.
Lari Pittman’s “Untitled #5,” 2010.
(Fredrik Nilsen / Regen Projects)

Lari Pittman’s labor-intensive paintings of complex states of agitated being emerged into prominence just as many other artists moved toward outsourced fabrication or ateliers with legions of studio assistants. His hard work is on staggering display in 141 often over-the-top pictures.


‘Manet and Modern Beauty’

J. Paul Getty Museum, Oct. 8-Jan. 12

"The Cafe-Concert," about 1878, by Édouard Manet, at the Getty Museum.
“The Cafe-Concert,” about 1878, by Édouard Manet, oil on canvas, from the exhibition “Manet and Modern Beauty” at the Getty Museum.
(Walters Art Museum)


In the lush paintings that Édouard Manet (1832-1883) made at the end of his too-short life, the brilliant French artist employed conceptions of femininity as a powerful modern template for art.


‘With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art, 1972-1985’

Museum of Contemporary Art, Oct. 27-May 11

Miriam Schapiro's , "Heartland," 1985, acrylic, fabric, and glitter on canvas.
Miriam Schapiro’s , “Heartland,” 1985, acrylic, fabric, and glitter on canvas.
(Zach Stovall)

Long the Rodney Dangerfield of American art, Pattern and Decoration of the 1970s finally gets the respect it deserves as a catalyst for so much of what we take for granted in art being made today.


‘No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake’

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Sept. 29-Jan. 26

Nayland Blake's, "Starting Over," 2000; DVD video projection.


Power dynamics are the disconcerting subject of Nayland Blake’s sculptures, videos and drawings, and the formidable forces at work include the power of aesthetics.


Honorable mentions

Large-format photographs alternate with films and videos in Neshat's retrospective exhibition at the Broad.
(Joshua White)

Sally Mann, Jacopo Pontormo and “Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World” at the Getty; Tsuruya Kokei at USC Pacific Asia Museum; Michael Rakowitz at REDCAT; Titian’s “Portrait of a Lady in White” at Norton Simon; Shirin Neshat at the Broad; and Julie Mehretu at LACMA.

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