LA museums challenge our views about art, sex and politics

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Still from Ask Dr Ruth, (2019) Dir. Ryan White. Photo courtesy of Hammer Museum.

Most of the time, when we think about our museums, we think about their permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. But, if we pay close attention to their schedule of public programs, we find a variety of lectures, panel discussions and film screenings on a wide range of subjects. Here is a good example: over the last two weeks, I went to the Hammer Museum twice. First, two weeks ago for an amazing panel discussion on the Mueller Report, and again yesterday, for the screening of a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, about - who else - of course, the one-and-only Dr. Ruth.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous Sex Therapist, celebrated her 90 th birthday last year. And, trust me, this petite, 4’7” woman, is bursting with energy and great ideas about life – and sex, plenty of sex – all of which she talks about with startling candor and amazing humor. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the director, Ryan White, and author and filmmaker Liz Goldwyn.

L: Cindy Sherman, Untitled #478, 2002/2008, c-print R: Henry Taylor, Untitled (Girl on Green Couch), 2017, acrylic on canvas. Photos courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Another Hammer event to keep an eye on is the upcoming Sotheby’s auction (May 16-17) of important works by 40 celebrated artists with strong ties to The Hammer museum. Artists, including Cindy Sherman and Henry Taylor, Mark Bradford and Judy Chicago, donated their art in support of the museum’s pioneering exhibition program. And look out for UCLA’s upcoming Celebration of Iranian Cinema, which will take place at the Hammer’s Billy Wilder Theater (April 27-May 11).

L: Hushidar Mortezaie and Jiyan Zandi, The Brotherhood, 2018, digital photograph  R: Milad Karamooz, The Kiss, 2016, digital photograph. Both images from Focus Iran 3 at Craft Contemporary. Photos courtesy of the artists and Craft Contemporary

With the ongoing conflict between the United States and its adversaries, such as Iran and Russia, to learn about their art and culture is not just a distraction, but a means toward better understanding of our opponents and hopefully diffusing political tensions. The former Craft & Folk Art Museum, which recently renamed itself “Craft Contemporary,” is hosting an eye-opening exhibition – Focus Iran 3 – of contemporary photography and video offering a view into the life of today’s Iranian youth. The works explore subjects including religion, family, queer identity and gender.

Installation shot, Crumbling Empire: The Power of Dissident Voices. Wende Museum. Photo by Edward Goldman.

Culver City-based Wende Museum of the Cold War, with its current exhibition – Crumbling Empire: The Power of Dissident Voices – makes its own important contribution to our understanding of Russian history and culture. There are over 100 posters by Russian artists whose images are ironic, and at times highly critical of Soviet socialism.

L & R: Installation shots, Crumbling Empire: The Power of Dissident Voices. Wende Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

Some of the posters make fun of iconic Communist images of workers and farmers. And I couldn’t help giggling at a poster of a Russian matryoshka nesting doll exposing her underwear.

L & R: Installation shots, Crumbling Empire: The Power of Dissident Voices. Wende Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

But other posters, with images of Stalin and Hitler, are sure to make your hair stand on end. One of the posters shows these two dictators handcuffed to each other as they greet their worshippers. In another, a bust of Stalin is discarded into what Russians call the “dustbin of history”. The intriguing thing about this exhibition is that most of the posters are from the private collection of two Beverly Hills High School teachers – Tom and Jeri Ferris. They bought the posters during their regular trips to the Soviet Union. My congratulations to the Wende Museum, which was wise and lucky enough to be able to acquire their collection.



Kathleen Yore