The 10 most memorable museum exhibitions of 2023

A photo illustrations of art by Maxwell Hendler, Barbara T. Smith, and Keith Haring.
From left to right: Maxwell Hendler, “Brick,” 1965; Barbara T. Smith with “Field Piece” at Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles, 1971; Keith Haring, “Untitled,” 1984.
(Photo illustration by Jess Hutchison / Los Angeles Times; photographs by Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times; Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Right now, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Brentwood is presenting three notable exhibitions — photographs that range from social documentation to magic realism by Arthur Tress and luxurious images by fashion stylist Sheila Metzner, plus the radical graphics of wildly inventive British Romantic painter William Blake (1757–1827). Keyed to antiquities at the Getty Villa at the edge of Malibu are three focused shows, one centered on a nearly life-size gold bust of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, another of papyrus scrolls and linen mummy wrappings that comprise the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and a third charting conservation of a surprising 2,800-year-old Greek bronze statuette of an equestrian, excavated in Albania. It’s a rich array.

Our critics and reporters select their favorite TV shows, movies, albums, songs, books, theater, art shows and video games of the year.

How good a year has the Getty had in its exhibition schedule? This good: Three shows entirely different from these are among the 10 that I found most memorable at area art museums this year. A fourth on my list tied into a spring offering at the Getty Research Institute. Impressive.

When 2023 began to unfold, pandemic-induced art museum cancellations and postponements seemed to be behind us, as programming mostly caught up. Here are 10 memorable exhibitions, in chronological order of their opening:


An out of focus photograph of books on shelves.
Uta Barth, “#41,” 1994, chromogenic print.
(Getty Museum; Uta Barth)

Uta Barth: Peripheral Vision
Getty Museum, Nov. 15, 2022-Feb. 19

Yes, the show formally opened during the busy end-of-year holiday season in 2022, but there was no museum list last year (those pandemic issues) and, since the show continued deep into February, I’m taking the liberty of claiming it for this year. Barth’s radiant, perceptually illuminating photographs are just too good not to accentuate.

Alex Edelman’s ‘Just for Us,’ the genius of Stephen Sondheim and a Tony Award for the Pasadena Playhouse were among the highlights of Los Angeles theater in 2023.

Dec. 4, 2023

A grid of black and white squares that appear to be moving.
Bridget Riley, “Movement in Squares,” 1961, synthetic emulsion on board.
(UCLA Hammer Museum / Bridget Riley)

Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio
UCLA Hammer Museum Feb. 4-May 28

How British artist Bridget Riley, 92, went from figure and landscape imagery to her signature geometric abstraction in the 1960s was marvelously unraveled in a large selection of works on paper.

A thick circle of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos laid out flat on the floor.
Food-themed art, including a floor sculpture of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos by Jazmín Urrea, is at the center of “Land of Milk and Honey,” an exhibition at the Cheech Marin Center.
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)


Land of Milk and Honey
The Cheech, Riverside Art Museum, Feb. 25-May 28

Sculptures, installations and other works by more than 40 mostly American and Mexican artists were included in the fifth installment of the always cheeky MexiCali Biennial, this one on the theme of California agriculture — represented as part utopian paradise, part huckster marketing dystopia.

Three contributing critics pick their best fiction of the year, including work by Victor LaValle, Ed Park, Lauren Groff, Yiyun Li and Tania James.

Dec. 5, 2023

An oil painting of a room with an easel in the left corner below a painting on the wall.
Vilhelm Hammershøi, “Interior With an Easel, Bredgade 25,” 1912, oil on canvas.
(J. Paul Getty Museum)

Beyond the Light: Identity and Place in 19th-Century Danish Art
Getty Museum, May 23-Aug. 20

Drawings, oil sketches and paintings showed how Danish artists — especially Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) — dealt with a traumatic era of military defeat and financial collapse.

Pink and orange Day-Glo and vinyl paint on a wood tabletop.
Keith Haring, “Untitled,” 1981, Day-Glo and vinyl paint on found Formica and wood tabletop.
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody
The Broad, May 27-Oct. 8

Although art is really for anybody, not everybody, the big survey of Haring’s mostly joyful, socially engaged work from the late-1970s and 1980s offered a bracing example of artistic activism, timely for today’s rising authoritarian repressions.


The best movies of 2023 include ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Past Lives’ and ‘Poor Things,’ according to our critic Justin Chang.

Dec. 8, 2023

An oil painting of two barefoot beggars in hats and ragged clothes.
Giacomo Ceruti, “Two Beggars,” circa 1735-40, oil on canvas.
(Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia)

Giacomo Ceruti: A Compassionate Eye
Getty Museum, July 18-Oct. 29

A modest, first-ever American museum show of the unconventional 18th-century Italian Baroque painter (1698-1767) examined the artist’s disarming fusion of genre painting and portraiture in paintings of peasants.

A flat gray painting creates the illusion of spatial motion.
June Harwood’s “network” paintings from the late 1960s employ flat color to create spatial motion.
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

June Harwood: Paintings
Benton Museum of Art, Aug. 23-Jan. 7, 2024

Writing a lead essay for the Pomona College exhibition catalog meant I couldn’t review the Harwood show, but the beautifully concise survey of work since the 1960s by the late geometric Hard-edge painter (1933-2015) merits inclusion on any year-end list.

A fragment of a Time magazine cover with the “TI” clipped off, showing a woman in a bikini, pasted on an oval mirror.
Barbara T. Smith, “Me,” 1964-65, mixed media (recto).
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)


Barbara T. Smith: Proof
Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Oct. 7- Jan. 14, 2024

Together with the Getty Research Institute’s fascinating spring exhibition, “Barbara T. Smith: The Way to Be,” the ICA show offers a thorough survey of the wide-ranging six-decade career of the Pasadena-based Conceptual and performance artist.

Television critics Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd weigh in on the series they enjoyed most in 2023, including ‘Poker Face,’ ‘Reservation Dogs,’ ‘Mrs. Davis,’ ‘I’m a Virgo’ and more.

Dec. 7, 2023

An oil painting of a box of crackers, a clear pill case with a single pill, a chipped red brick and a decorated bowl.
Maxwell Hendler, “Brick,” 1965, oil on canvas.
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

Advance of the Rear Guard: Ceeje Gallery in the 1960s
Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, Oct. 11-March 9, 2024

The show revives interest in the free-wheeling iconoclasm of L.A.-based artists associated with Ceeje Gallery, too long obscured, including Max Hendler, Roberto Chavez, Charles Garabedian and Joan Maffei.

A blue, circular stadium with a track and field at the center.
Paul Pfeiffer, “Vitruvian Figure (detail),” 2008, mixed media.
(Christian Capurro)

Paul Pfeiffer: Prologue to the Story of the Birth of Freedom
Museum of Contemporary Art, Nov. 12-June 16, 2024

The digital upheavals of the last several decades — and their disturbing effects on social and political perception — are smartly tackled in Pfeiffer’s video, installation and photographic art.