Art Insider Mar. 10: Luchita Hurtado, Catherine Opie, clay biennial

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This week, an artist gets her due at almost 100 years old, Craft Contemporary explores the body through clay, and Catherine Opie talks politics through landscapes of the American South.

Luchita Hurtado at LACMA

Luchita Hurtado,
Mascara (1975). Oil on canvas, 27 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, © Luchita Hurtado. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Luchita Hurtado will be 100 years old this October. At LACMA, a solo exhibition reveals decades of artworks that were largely made in private. Married to well-known artist Lee Mullican and with two children, Hurtado often painted at the kitchen table (or sometimes in a closet) after everyone was asleep. 

She has only been recognized in the mainstream art world for the last few years. The LACMA show (which traveled from Serpentine in London, and will head to the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City) reveals the wide array of styles that Hurtado moved through in her 80 years of making. 

Still, her experience as a mother and a woman can be seen as a primary theme throughout the work, which often pictures the female body, birthing, and wombs. That includes her self-portrait series, in which she looks down at her own body and paints her visage from that perspective. Breasts, belly, and feet are in the lower half of the canvas, with a rug or children’s toy in the upper half. 

The perspective of the paintings positions Hurtado as reflecting on herself, rather than allowing an outside gaze. In her work, the female nude is reflective, spiritual, and powerful — a gateway to a deeper understanding of nature. Hurtado explained, “Those self-portraits were a real surprise to me. … I concluded that all I had in the world was myself, and I am who I am because I’m doing what I want to do, not what I’m told to do.”

Luchita Hurtado,
Untitled (2019). Ink on paper, 29.75 x 22.25 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, © Luchita Hurtado. Photo: Jeff McLane.

For Hurtado, the body is deeply connected to nature, which is also wrapped up in pleasure, birth, and family. Although she’s always been deeply inspired by nature, as she’s nearing 100 and global warming continues to worsen, her work has turned more overtly environmental. She has text such as “We Are All a Species” and “No Place to Hide” in her drawings. 

She says, “I want my grandaughter’s children to enjoy the world as I lived it. I like to be with nature in every way I possibly can. It’s the only solution that we have because we are a species. I’m shouting now. When I paint air, water, I mean it. Earth, fire, the four elements. It’s that simple. … The important things are not money. The important things are the animal part of us. We live in a very limited world, and we are doing away with it in a very systematic way. We should all be concerned.”

On view: February 16 – May 3, 2020

The Body, The Object, The Other at Craft Contemporary

Nicole Seisler,
Preparing (detail) (ongoing series). Site- specific drawing, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and Craft Contemporary. Photo: Esteban Pulido.

Across the street from LACMA, the newly renamed Craft Contemporary (formerly the Craft and Folk Art Museum) is hosting its second clay biennial. The exhibition is titled The Body, The Object, The Other . It focuses on clay artists who explore themes of the body. This is apt, given the intensely physical process that clay demands of its maker. Throughout the show, many artists create playfully figurative work. 

Roxanne Jackson’s monstrous ceramic hand has long yellow fingernails that curl around a seashell. Anders Ruhwald creates simple mask forms by thumbing two eye holes into a clay slab. Phyllis Green reimagines Edgar Degas’ ballerinas as plump mounds wearing tutus. Other artists explore how clay might act as a metaphor for the body, a record of touch and action. 

In Premonition of a Butterfly , the artist Brie Ruais performs the making of one of her ceramic wall works. The video is filmed from above. The artist can be seen naked and with a butterfly painted on her back, on all fours, using her limbs to make deep grooves in the raw clay. 

Nicole Seisler uses clay to mark the museum wall in a process called wedging, which is used to get bubbles out of clay before working with it. Then the artwork becomes a record of the body’s interaction with a material, rather than focusing on the material itself.

On view: January 25 – May 10, 2020

Catherine Opie at Regen Projects

Installation view of Catherine Opie’s
Rhetorical Landscapes at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, February 27 - April 4, 2020. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

At Regen Projects in Hollywood, photographer Catherine Opie juxtaposes austere photographs of swamps in the South to political animations that play on large iPhone-like screens. The exhibit is called Rhetorical Landscape . For the animations, Opie has been clipping images from a wide array of media sources to present the post-Trump American landscape. 

Political candidates appear next to gun toters, saints, hamburgers, and soccer players. This creates satirical animated compositions that get at the freneticism of modern media. Meanwhile, her swamp photographs are peacefully still (Opie says that she finds solace in nature), yet carry immense nuance. Being in the south, these swamps are in the center of Trump country, and also linguistically allude to one of Trump’s most-used metaphors: “Drain the Swamp.” 

While the animated works zero in on the anxiety surrounding our political discourse in this country, Opie’s swamp photographs use elegantly simple means to arrive at complex meanings. 

On view: February 27 – April 4, 2020