While the project room and special exhibits feature solo outings, the majority of the works at the three-floor exhibition space are individual pieces from the permanent de la Cruz Collection, which are usually literally illustrations of cutting-edge contemporary art. In the past, the third floor was often the focal point, with its selection of pieces from the aforementioned Mendieta and Gonzalez-Torres, along with outstanding sculptures from Jim Hodges and Gabriel Orozco. But this year the first floor feels the strongest.
The first encounter when you walk through the door is a newly acquired, large-scale painting from Mark Bradford, a mixed-media collage from 2011. The Los Angeles native is known for his interpretations of urban life, but this doesn’t mean street art or graffiti, although elements of those forms can be detected. He crafts with more subtle color and detail, collating bits and pieces of daily life in the big city.
Other African-American artists are also well represented on the first floor. There are some fine works from Glenn Ligon and Rashid Johnson, who had a solo show at MAM in the fall. Ligon plumbs history — African American and otherwise — through text, neon signs and here, with coal dust on canvas. Johnson mashes up mirrors, soap, wax, shea butter and heavy doses of cultural references to come up with his creations.
But maybe the most riveting attention grabber is an unintentional collaboration. Covering the west wall are six inkjet-on-linen panels from Wade Guyton, a 2012 work commissioned by Jeffrey Deitch initially for an exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. This art-world star can at times make some irritating art from his Epson printer and computer-generated techniques, but these are beautiful. What really distinguishes this, however, is a white-light work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres made from 42, 15-watt bulbs, hanging from the ceiling and puddling on the floor. The resulting light drips in front of the panels, making the installation complete and gorgeous.
On the second floor an indoor sculpture garden has been installed. With numerous pieces, it does feel like a populated garden. There are some nice works from good artists. Maybe because the amount of sculptures are placed so close to each other, though, it doesn’t have the same impact as the isolated works on the first floor; here, the pieces can lose their identity.
On the third floor, some of the works will look familiar, and that is more than fine. The great Ping Pond Table with plant-like birds fluttering over it from Gabriel Orozco would be worth the price of admission alone. Except that one of the most admirable things about this private collection is that it is free — you can go back and look at Orozco, or any other of the artists when you have time, not necessarily cash.