Ed Moses and Noah Purifoy at LACMA

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Ed Mosees, "Untitled," 1977
Charcoal and asking tape on board
36 15/16 x 29 7/8 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, promised gift of Ed Moses
© 2015 Ed Mose, photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA, by Brian Forrest

Just because Ed Moses seems to have a new show every month does not mean that you should neglect the exhibition at LACMA, Drawings of the 60's and 70's, on view through August 2.

Ed Moses, "Untitled," 1975-77
Acrylic, ink and masking tape on foamcore
48 x 36 3/16 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, promised gift of Ed Moses
© 2015 Ed Mose, photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA, by Brian Forrest

For the artist now associated almost exclusively with an expressive and process-oriented abstract painting, it is a revelation to see Moses' early drawings. Influenced by his early interest in architecture and training in mechanical drafting, the drawings from the 1950's are meticulously composed. That precision is carried on in the 1960's when he covered giant sheets of paper with graphite patterns of roses. It is clear to see in this show how the work was a fulcrum for his breakthrough of the 1970's, combining the two techniques to achieve graphic power in works on paper with bold diagonal lines. In this thoughtful installation by curator Leslie Jones, one gallery is just as Moses himself installed his own show at Pomona College in 1971. A facing wall acts as projection screen for a series of photographs of Moses' transformational installation at the Riko Mizuno Gallery in 1970 when he had parts of the ceiling removed to allow light to filter down in rays along the walls and floor. In this show, you can see the connections between this action and the drawings of the next decade.

Ed Moses, "Rose #5," 1963
Graphite and colored pencil on board
60 x 40 inches
Collection of Jena and Michael King
© 2015 Ed Mose, photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA, by Brian Forrest

Much of this exhibition comes from Moses himself because he and his family have generously donated a comprehensive body of work to LACMA. As a result, you observe a visual intelligence evolving over decades. An adjacent exhibition of drawings from the 1960s and 1970s by a large number of L.A. based artists complements Moses' exhibition.

Noah Purifoy, "From the Point of View of the Little People," 1994
Mixed-media construction
120 x 96 x 18 inches
© Noah Purifoy Foundation
Photo © Fredrik Nilsen

More revelations are to be found in Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada, the retrospective of the late African American artist now known mostly for the large assemblage sculptures that he erected on his property in Joshua Tree. Many of those works have been cleaned up and sensitively installed by curators Franklin Sirmans and Yael Lipschutz, with ample space to be observed as art in a refined context. Having seen the work in Joshua Tree, I wasn't sure this would be the case but in fact, it elevates the art to its appropriate place. Rolls of aluminum insulation now in plexiglas boxes on white plinths can be seen as discreet objects: Scroll I and II, both 2001. The standing frame with an array of wooden legs in fraying chinos reads as a mature statement rather than outsider oddity.

Noah Purifoy, "Strange Fruit," 2002
74 x 31.5 x 6.5 inches
Sue A. Welsh Collection
© Noah Purifoy Foundation
Photo © Robert Wedemeyer

Purifoy was not an outsider artist but held degrees in social science before going back to college at Chouinard for a B.A. in fine art in 1954. His two interests came together when he became a founder of the Watts Towers Art Center, where he was director and instructor. His response to the 1965 Watts riots was to start a summer festival and to create 66 Signs of Neon, an exhibition of sculptures made from the detritus of the riots, a show that toured across the United States.

Noah Purifoy, "Untitled," 1967
43 x 43 inches
John Outterbridge Collection
© Noah Purifoy Foundation
Photo © Robert Wedemeyer

He worked as an educator and social worker to support his art until he moved to Joshua Tree, where he lived in a trailer for the last 15 years of his life. This decision was driven by economic circumstances rather than eccentricity. It there that he went on to create some of his most astonishing sculptures before his death in 2004. Many are now at LACMA. Don't miss his Ode to Frank Gehry, built from old packing boxes and painted white that stands on the rear plaza of the museum. The show continues to September 27.