The L.A. version of “The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up: Cobra and Its Legacy” is a wonderfully unwieldy sprawl that fills the six main spaces at Blum & Poe and spills out into two hallways. With more than 150 paintings, sculptures, collages and photographs by 44 artists made from 1948 to the present — as well as enough first-rate ephemera to fill a small library — the cornucopia lets you get lost in its abundant supply of startling works and head-spinning juxtapositions.
Organized by independent curator Alison M. Gingeras, the exhibition picks up where its New York version left off: bringing attention to a loose constellation of European artists whose rambunctiously irreverent works are not as well known as they should be, especially in the United States and particularly on the West Coast.
In New York, Gingeras zeroed in on works made in the mid-20th century, mostly in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam (the first letters of which gave the movement its name), but also in other European cities. Her goal was twofold: to show that Cobra was not confined to three cities and to emphasize that its impact did not end when it was formally disbanded in 1951, three years after it was formed.
In L.A., she does that and more.
Most of their paintings, assemblages and ceramics are rugged and funny. Point-blank and loaded, their love of scrappy nastiness is accompanied by something like innocence.
Other standouts include works by such lesser-known participants as Ernest Mancoba (who immigrated to Denmark from South Africa) and Shinkichi Tajiri (who was born in Watts and immigrated to the Netherlands after being sent to a World War II internment camp in Arizona and, as a U.S. soldier, wounded in Italy).
Pieces by Enrico Baj, Jacqueline de Jong, Raoul Ubac and Jean Dubuffet round out the historical side of the show. Making a virtue of crudeness, its artists wrestle sophistication from otherwise blunt ways of applying paint and slapping ideas into shape. The combo is potent: an anarchistic mix of ambition and guilelessness, purpose and play.
Los Angeles Times photographers document the year in arts and culture.(Los Angeles Times)
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kerstin Anderson takes charge of Maria von Trapp with a spirit so joyful, a physicality so lithe and coltish, and a soprano so flawlessly soaring that only Frau Schraeder, Capt. Von Trapp’s jilted fiancée (Teri Hansen), could possibly resist her charm. Read the Oct. 1 review >>(Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.'s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley in Los Angeles on July 9, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of "Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album "Wildheart,” explores L.A.'s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
That complexity is harder to find in the works by the 25 contemporary artists who have been selected to make a case for the lasting effect of Cobra.
Too many lack the awkward finesse of their forebears. Brittle, even shrill cynicism swamps any sense of goodwill in works by Richard Prince, Mark Flood, Friedrich Kunath and Julian Schnabel. Paintings by Joe Bradley and Rashid Johnson ape the gestures of their predecessors and come off as imitations.
This part of the show falters because it tries too hard to prove connections between artists by setting up one-to-one juxtapositions. The Appel-Flood, Jorn-Schnabel, Corneille-Bradley and Jorn-Johnson pairings fall flat, the more recent works paling in comparison to the old.
The installation is best when the contemporary works do not literally look like their precedents but instead channel their spirits. Such connections can’t be proved, only sensed. They’re illogical, weird and wondrous. They take shape between Jon Pylypchuk’s forlorn figures and Reinhoud’s metal monsters; Appel’s whimsical mutants and Gelitin’s comical paintings; and Mark Grotjahn’s chubby beast and Ferlov Mancoba’s slender figure.
The upstairs installation works better, its 22 paintings by 16 artists allowing for a loose network of interconnections. Solid works by A.R. Penck, Albert Oehlen, Dana Schutz, Derek Aylward and Don Van Vliet let visitors have some fun mixing and matching, comparing and contrasting and generally making a mess of the logical argumentation that sometimes constrains this magnificent exhibition. The folks of Cobra would be happy.
Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 836-2062, through Dec. 23. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.blumandpoe.com