Your Guide to This Summer’s SoCal Art Scene

2023-09-11T13:25:45-04:00Culture|ART 
  • Justin Favela (b. 1986), Gypsy Rose Piñata (II), 2022.

This summer in the Southern California art scene we see a focus on both nurturing homegrown talent and contextualizing international artists’ work within the zeitgeist. Across museums and galleries, there is an emphasis on revisiting overlooked or flattened narratives in favor of plural histories and perspectives. Caps embellished with shards of glass from a Ford-F150, larger-than-life piñatas in the shape of lowriders, and sculptures made from found objects – these are just some of the works on view this summer.

​​Hélio Melo & Alison Saar

Courtesy of SEA VIEW, Los Angeles and Almeida & Dale, Sao Paolo.

On view at Sea View in Los Angeles, CA through August 12, 2023.

Hélio Melo and Alison Saar taps into the connections between the artists rather than their geographic and socio-political differences. The late self-taught Brazilian artist Hélio Melo grew up in the Amazon and worked as a rubber tapper. His drawings and paintings evoke animals and ancestral fables to illustrate the region’s violent social and ecological transformations under the Brazilian dictatorship. Meanwhile, Alison Saar’s sculptural work is known for incorporating female archetypes and mythologies to convey the intersection between Blackness and womanhood in America. In this pairing, Saar’s sculptural works of arresting scale center each of the two galleries, with Melo’s arboreal, plant-dyed paintings nearby. It is an intimate exhibition to contemplate the artists’ work as they combine myth and realism to confront — and perhaps transcend — violence and conflict.

Celia Álvarez Muñoz: Breaking the Binding & Griselda Rosas: Yo te cuido

Celia Álvarez Muñoz, Petrocuatl, 1988. Courtesy of the artist.

On view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego through August 13, 2023.

It is always a celebratory moment when trailblazing artists get their first career retrospective. Such is the case for conceptual multimedia artist Celia Álvarez Muñoz. Surveying four-decades of work, this exhibition features over 35 artworks across photography, installations, sculpture, and book art. As a whole, Muñoz’s body of work is an exploration into language slippages, assimilation, and cultural recovery. Her work does so via playful interactions between images and words. In her early Enlightenment series — a set of ten artist books included in the show—the artist plays with text, puns, and various double meanings that she experienced growing up along the Mexican border. Celia Álvarez Muñoz is an artist that generously lets meaning multiply and boundaries dissipate with tenderness, humor and ingenuity.

Afro-Atlantic Histories

Rosana Paulino, The Permanence of Structures, 2017, digital print on cut and sewn fabric, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – MASP.

On view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through September 10, 2023.

Afro-Atlantic Histories charts the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies in the African diaspora. The exhibition features work produced in Africa, Europe, and the Americas from the 17th century onward in an effort to present a global perspective on the histories and stories of enslavement, resilience, and the struggle for liberation. Together these works exemplify a multiplicity of perspectives across time and geography, ranging from historical paintings by French painter, Eugène Delacroix, to contemporary works by Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker. The exhibition was initially presented as Histórias Afro-Atlânticas at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) and the Instituto Tomie Ohtake in Brazil, and prominently features the work of Brazilian artists, such as Paulo Nazareth, Rosana Paulino, and Sidney Amara working across photography, printmaking and watercolors, respectively. Its U.S. tour has finally reached the West Coast at LACMA for a limited time.

Ahorita! [Right Now!]

Graciela Iturbide, Rosario y su bebe, 1984. Gelatin Silver Print, sheet: 20 x 24 inch, framed: 22 x 30 inches. Photography by Yubo Dong / ofstudio. Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery.

On view at the Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. through September 2nd.

Ahorita! —“[Right Now!]” — is a group exhibition curated by LA artist and curandera [healer] Ever Velasquez. It showcases the work of women and non-binary artists, calling attention to some of the most pressing issues facing their communities. In the first gallery is a 30-foot textile imprinted with the rust of a ladder, which Tanya Aguiñiga had used to climb over the US/Mexico border fence. Nearby is Veronica Gaona’s “migrant caps,” embellished with shattered Ford F-150 truck window glass. The show features forty-four artists working across a wide range of practices and with variable interpretations of art activism, touching on topics including forced migration, women’s reproductive rights, and social constructs of identity. While primarily featuring recent work by artists such as Shizu Saldamando and Guadalupe Rosales, Velasquez intersperses more historical works such as Graciela Iturbide’s East LA photographic series, and turn-of-the-century work by Alison Saar.

Carmen Argote: I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe

Installation view, Carmen Argote: I won’t abandon you, I see you, you are safe, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane/ICA LA

On view at the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles through September 10.

Carmen Argote’s artistic process is characterized by her use of found objects and trash, which she often collects on her daily walks. Her latest show is a continuation of this approach, with figs, pillows, bananas, and urine reconstituted into meditative works of art. I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe is a journey toward a deeper understanding of her inner self and all the versions of a person that can exist simultaneously. More specifically, the show is an exploration of power, control, generational trauma, and patriarchy across generations. Her Mother series considers her “child” and “mother” self in various states of submission, desire and restlessness that await to be healed. The exhibition is a re-mothering and re-birth of sorts as Argote speaks to her inner child, “I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe.”

Xican–a.o.x. Body

Justin Favela (b. 1986), Gypsy Rose Piñata (II), 2022. Found objects, cardboard, Styrofoam, paper, and glue, 60 x 210 x 78 in. Courtesy the artist and American Federation of Arts.

On view at the Cheech Marin Center in Riverside, CA through January 7.

Xican–a.o.x. Body addresses the body as a tool through which to challenge stereotypical and marginalized constructions of Chicanx identities. Within the 125 artworks by nearly 70 artists, the brown body is illegible, transgressive and resistant to reductive rhetorics. It is an intergenerational constellation of artists from the 1960s to present. Covering some of the most influential Chicanx artists of our time, the exhibition and accompanying catalog will leave a lasting imprint on how we consider Xicanx art for years to come. For now, see James Luna’s photography next to Justin Favela’s lifesize Gypsy Rose Piñata (II).


Joanna García Cherán is an art historian, writer and cultural worker passionate about art of our time.