As the Hammer gears up for "Made in L.A. 2018,"
UCLA's Fowler Museum is revisiting a 2012 Hammer biennialist, Meleko Mokgosi. Six years ago Mokgosi made an impression with large-scale history paintings of his native Botswana. The Fowler's "Meleko Mokgosi: Bread, Butter, and Power" (through July 1, 2018) is an immersive salon machine. Twenty large paintings are hung on four walls of a shoebox-shaped gallery. As in a 19th-century novel the ambitious theme, of inequalities of gender and income, is explored through a sprawling cast of characters.
UCLA-trained and now a New Yorker, Mokgosi works on unprimed canvas, creating a illusionistic Botswana dissolving at the fringes into gestural abstraction.
Most panels are based on snapshots, news photos, or school photos. Many have still-life elements and allusions to art history. A boy in a wicker chair parodies Blair Stapp's photo of Black Panther co-founder Eldridge Cleaver (an image that is also appropriated in the Marvel Studios Black Panther
). We're not in Oakland, or Wakanda, anymore.
Below, a superflat panel incorporates Harriet Tubman (upper left); UCLA Black Panther Angela Davis, in her Samuel Fosso portrait (middle right); two amorous ladies; a Victorian marble bust said to be Mary Seacole, Jamaica's Florence Nightingale (and now at the Getty
); plus a poster you can pick up for free at the Fowler bookstore.
Mokgosi was the first winner of the Mohn Prize
. Bread, Butter, and Power
ought to reassure this year's winner that there's no Heisman curse to the Mohn.
The single Chuck Close painting at the Broad seems to be one of its more popular pieces. A Mokgosi there would probably grab a similar level of interest from visitors.