What to see at the new Institute of Contemporary Art in DTLA

Sarah Cain, left, and curator Jamillah James, pose in front of Cain’s wall painting, “Now I’m Going to Tell You Everything.”

This weekend, the former Santa Monica Museum of Art will reopen to the public in the downtown L.A. Arts District as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The inaugural exhibition spotlights the trippy drawings of the late Mexican outsider artist Martín Ramírez, but two other site-specific installations are worth a look.

“Sarah Cain: Now I’m Going to Tell You Everything” will greet visitors in the museum’s courtyard. Cain’s three-dimensional wall painting is a colorful, abstract work on brick. It features sculptural aspects such as canvases that the artist ripped and painted on as well as sparkly backpacks she hung from its surface — the “ultimate selfie spot for the arts district,” museum director Elsa Longhauser said.

The museum’s more intimate project room will feature Abigail DeVille’s sculptural installation. It’s a tree-like metal armature that mushrooms across the ceiling. The artist hung objects from it that she found around the neighborhood — old windows, door frames, fences, car parts, beds and tables. The immersive environment addresses questions of displacement for marginalized people.

“The work is very site-specific, she does a lot of research,” curator Jamillah James said. “For L.A., she’s thinking about where we are as an institution, and downtown Los Angeles, and our proximity to skid row, a national tragedy.”

James, who was an assistant curator at the Hammer Museum in L.A. and a curatorial fellow at the Studio Museum in Harlem before that, curated both installations.

In February, ICA LA will present an exhibition about Swiss curator Harold Szeemann in collaboration with the Getty, which owns Szeemann’s archives. The show, curated by Glenn Phillips and Philipp Kaiser, will re-create Szeemann’s Bern, Switzerland, apartment and an exhibition he staged there in the 1970s, “Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us.” The show is about his grandfather, a hairdresser and the inventor of the permanent wave machine.

In late May, the museum will present an exhibition about sign painter Norm Laich, “This Brush for Hire,” curated by L.A. artists John Baldessari and Meg Cranston, both of whom worked with Laich.

“Meg and I decided Norm is an important artist and needs a show, his own show. It was time,” Baldessari said. “He’s done work for various artists over the years, he makes them come forward, but it’s time for him to show” his own work.

ICA LA, which has free admission, is the newest addition to Los Angeles’ rapidly expanding museum landscape.

Twitter: @debvankin


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