L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley

Julio Le Parc, Lumiére en mouvement-installation, 1962/re-fabricated 2010, painted drywall, mirrors, stainless steel, nylon thread, and two spotlights, 42 ft. 5 in. x 16 ft. 10 in. x 16 ft., collection of the artist, photo by Iwan Baan.

When Light and Space sculptor James Turrell installed one of his light tunnels at the Whitney Museum in 1982, a woman leaned against a wall she thought she saw, fell and broke her wrist. She happened to be the wife of the Oregon State Supreme Court Chief Justice, and subsequently sued the museum. Her testimony: “It was a receding wall, I leaned against it, and it wasn’t there.” Turrell retells this story often, and, when he does, he sounds insightful while the woman sounds silly—entitled, and perhaps a bit of a fine art philistine (reported the BBC, “Whilst concerned for her safety, Turrell has recalled her testimony with a smirk”). And even if suing a museum over an art work that did what it was supposed to—toyed with perception—does seem like irrational vengeance-seeking, there is something genuinely ominous about art that can trick you so effectively. It plays God, and makes you feel like a passive participant. “I don’t function in the same situation as the general public,” Turrell has said. “I am the maker not the observer.”

Even before  Turrell and a handful of other young American artists started experimenting with light, a number of artists from Latin America had already begun to do so, some working out of the US or Europe. Their work has been far less prominently exhibited in the states, and some has not been shown at all. Now, five installations by Latin American Light and Space artist are featured in a surprisingly low-key, charming exhibition at MOCA.

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Cromosaturación, 1965/re-fabricated 2010, painted drywall, fluorescent lights, and colored plastic, 155 15/16 x 603 15/16 x 291 5/16 in., collection of Carlos Cruz-Diez, photo by Iwan Baan.

Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space includes only six artists, two of whom worked as a team (and it may be the first MOCA show in years that hasn’t been annoyingly overhung): Carlos Cruz Diez, Lucio Fontana, Julio Le Parc, Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, and Jesús Rafael Soto.

Walking through Suprasensorial, you feel not that you are being awed, but that you are participating in a certain science-fair-style awe about the way light works. If you enter through the second door,  the first piece you’ll encounter is Rafael Soto’s Penétrable BBL bleu, a sea of hanging rubber cords that resist your body weight as you push through them. Then there’s Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Cromosaturación, a series of fluorescent colored rooms you can see into but not out of–when I was in the green room, a child’s winter coat had been abandoned on the floor; it shouldn’t have been there, of course, but it made the space feel lived-in, communal rather than austere.

Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions, 1973/re-fabricated 2010, water, pool, electric lights, projected images, sound, and paint, 24 ft. 7 1/4 in. x 45 ft. 1 5/16 in., Projeto Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro. photo by Iwan Baan.

It’s Hélio Oiticica’s and Neville D’Almeida’s Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions that has received the most press since the exhibition opened, and understandably. They’ve made a swimming pool for a museum, and those who choose to climb in (you can buy swim wear in the gift shop and there’s a line of changing rooms and lockers outside the installation) listen to John Cage and, as they float, watch a looping slideshow of Cage’s music notations covered in drawings made with lines of cocaine. ” The water removes uncertainty,” D’Almeida told MOCA curator Alma Ruiz.

But my favorite work in the exhibition remains Julio Le Parc Lumiére en mouvement-installation. It reminds me of a West Hollywood hotel lobby, pretty, certainly, but glitzy in an almost commercial way. I imagine an exuberantly costumed, intermittently morose and enthusiastic Ariel Pink performing Round and Round inside Parc’s reflective. It’d be swank, melancholic, ephemeral and kitschy all at once. In other words, perfect.