Celia Paul at the Huntington

Celia Paul, Rosebush, Magdalene Garden, 2017
Were there an award for most-improved room in a museum, the Huntington would be a shoo-in. For the past three years the Huntington Gallery's display of British art has been interrupted by an empty room with Alex Israel murals (holdover from a 2015 exhibition, a sort of Jeff Koons-does-Versailles intervention). Now Israel's palm trees have gone the way of América Tropical, and the newly whitewashed walls hold a small, perfect exhibition of seven paintings by British artist Celia Paul.
Before: Alex Israel murals, 2015
After: "Celia Paul"
Celia Paul, The Brontë Parsonage (with Charlotte's Pine and Emily's Path to the Moors), 2017
Paul is an Indian-born Briton, and her work reexamines the British literary, landscape, and portrait tradition. As a child Paul lived near the Brontë family's parsonage. She makes it the subject of a numinous painting. It provides an unexpected counterpoint to the Huntington Library's collection of letters and first editions by Charlotte and Emily Brontë.

From San Marino to Boston, Gilded Age museums are exploring ways to stay relevant as time and demographics move on. Institutions that don't collect contemporary art can't generally afford to have curators specializing in it. Too often the attempts to show contemporary art are tone-deaf. "Celia Paul" (through July 8, 2019) is interesting not only on its own merit but as a way forward. New Yorker critic Hilton Als curated the exhibition for the Yale Center for British Art. The Huntington took it on, and that makes perfect sense. Contemporary British art is shown only sporadically in L.A. "Celia Paul" augments rather than follows the offerings of the city's contemporary museums.
Celia Paul, My Sisters in Mourning, 2015-2016


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