The Best Exhibits at Museums and Galleries in L.A. in May

Your guide to new openings, must-sees, and what you need to catch while you can
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We’re blessed with an abundance of museums and art galleries here in L.A., but with so many shows rotating in and out at any given time, it can be hard to keep up. Nobody wants to be the person who only finds out about a cool exhibit when it’s closing down and heading out of town. To help you make the most of your gallery-going, we’ve picked a selection of the best exhibits at museums and galleries around town.

New Openings

Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective – California African American Museum

Opens May 9

Ernie Barnes is known as the painter of some of the most iconic images of 20th century black American life; his 1976 piece “The Sugar Shack” was used as the cover art of a Marvin Gaye record and appeared on-screen in the sitcom Good Times. An athlete himself–he played in the NFL for four seasons–he was the official artist of the 1984 Olympics in L.A. This retrospective show collects work from throughout his multi-decade career.


Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich – Skirball Cultural Center

Opens May 9

Influential fashion designer Rudi Gernreich created eye-popping designs with bold color and patterns that challenged mid-20th century gender stereotypes–pantsuits and flat shoes for women, caftans for everyone, thongs and “monokinis.” Gernreich himself fled the Nazis in 1938 to relocate to Los Angeles; once here he became one of the founding members of the trailblazing gay rights advocacy group the Mattachine Society.


Guillermo Kuitca – Hauser & Wirth

Opens May 18

Argentine painter Guillermo Kuitca stages his first-ever L.A. show, featuring two new series. “The Family Idiot” takes cues from the Jean-Paul Sartre work of the same name; “Missing Pages” is an 18-part series of paintings inspired by the traditional printing process used to publish books.


Coyote Leaves the Res: The Art of Harry Fonseca – The Autry Museum

Opens May 18

Harry Fonseca was an influential force in shaping the look of contemporary Native American art. This collection of work focuses on the character of Coyote, the shape-shifting trickster of lore, depicted by Fonseca in leather and sneakers, amid colorful, graphic designs.

Ongoing Exhibits

Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite – Skirball Cultural Center

Closes September 1

Organized by the Aperture Foundation, this exhibit is the first major solo show dedicated to the work of Kwame Brathwaite, who documented the “second Harlem Renaissance” of the 1960s. He challenged the era’s Eurocentric beauty ideals by showing glamorous, powerful images of black fashion models, jazz luminaries, artists, and others.


Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963 – 1983 – The Broad

Closes September 1

Highlighting more than 60 different artists, this exhibition focuses on the vital contributions of Black creators in American art. The show highlights the connections between political and social movements including the Civil Rights struggle and Black Power and the artwork of the era, as well as how Black artists engaged with Minimalism, abstraction, and other genres. Among the artists in the show are Noah Purifoy, Faith Ringgold, Charles White, Alma Thomas, and Romare Bearden.


Time Is Running Out of Time: Experimental Film and Video from the L.A. Rebellion and Beyond – Art + Practice Space

Closes September 14

Centered around a selection of video works created by Black student filmmakers studying at UCLA in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising, this collection of pieces expands out to include experimental film and video works that address themes of community, identity, politics, and culture.

Closing Soon

Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property, 1968 – 2018 – Hammer Museum

Closes May 12

This retrospective is the first major show of conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg work to be staged in the U.S. in over 30 years, and many of the pieces on display have been sourced from European collections that have never been shown here at all. Ruppersberg ran in the same 1960s L.A. art scene as John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha; many of his works are large-scale, influenced by commercial graphic design, and often involve viewer participation.


On Hold: Jarvis Boyland – Kohn Gallery

Closes May 23

This is the first solo show for painter Jarvis Boyland, a Chicago-based artist who explores the experience of queer black men in his colorful portraits. Based on photographs of subjects which he then reconfigures, Boyland captures intimate, contemplative humans, often in domestic settings.


Palmyra: Loss & Remembrance – Getty Villa

Closes May 27

This new exhibition at the Getty Villa offers a glimpse into the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, which served as the crossroads between the competing Roman and Parthian Empires. Two thousand years ago, the community flourished, with a diverse population of Greek, Roman, and Iranian inhabitants, creating an array of art and architecture. During 2016 and 2017, much of what survived in Palmyra was destroyed in conflict between Syrian and Russian forces. This show includes sculptures and artifacts which were preserved.


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