United States

20 Exhibitions to Discover in California this Summer

by Paul Joseph  |  Published June 7, 2022

With much of California baked in heat during summer, the Golden State’s array of museums and their diverse programme of exhibitions provide the perfect chance to get some shade.

Royal Lion Hunt (detail), Assyrian, 875–860 BC, Kalhu (Nimrud), Northwest Palace, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, gypsum. British Museum, London, 1849,1222.8, 1849. (Photo: The Trustees of the British Museum)

From the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the warm seas of the Pacific Ocean along the Mexican border, California is home to a huge number of prestigious museums – many of which play host to regular exhibitions each year. Summer time sees no respite on the state’s cultural calendar, and if you happen to be visiting California this summer, we’ve picked out 20 if the best exhibitions taking place from June to September.

Assyria: Palace Art of Ancient Iraq

In the ninth through seventh centuries BC, the kings of Assyria forged the greatest empire the region had known. Its armies conquered lands from Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean coast, and parts of Anatolia (Turkey) in the west to the mountains of Iran in the east. Across these lands, the kings built palaces to glorify their reigns, adorning the walls with superbly carved reliefs in gypsum and limestone. Featuring some 12 masterworks on special loan from the British Museum, this exhibition illuminates the richly decorative art found in Assyria’s palaces during this long reign of power.

The Getty Center, Los Angeles / Through 5 September 2022

Everest: Ascent to Glory 

Team member in foreground with Mount Everest, Kangshung Face and Lhotse from the Karta Glacier, 1921 (Photo: ©Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

This exhibition combines photographs, films, and artefacts from five expeditions leading up to and including the earliest successful attempt to climb Mount Everest – the tallest mountain on earth. Marking the centennial of the first Everest expedition, the exhibition explores the history, characters, unsung heroes – including Tibetan and Nepalese Sherpas – and changing technologies of the initial attempts to climb the legendary mountain. It features more than 20 original objects and 60 photographs of Everest’s history, taking visitors on an epic journey reflective of the true triumphs and tragedies intertwined with this awe-inspiring natural wonder.

Bowers Museum, Santa Ana / Through 28 August 2022

Wayne Thiebaud: A Celebration, 1920-21

Best known for his tantalising paintings of cakes and pies, the late artist Wayne Thiebaud has long been affiliated with Pop art, though his body of work is far more expansive. To celebrate the 100th birthday of Thiebaud, who passed away in December 2021, this exhibition represents his achievements in all media, with pieces drawn from the Crocker’s holdings and from the collection of the Thiebaud family and Foundation – many of which, until this show, have never been shown publicly.

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento / Through  7 August 2022

Be Here / 1942

Yukiko Okinaga at the Old Santa Fe station (Photo: Russell Lee, Los Angeles, California, April 1942 / Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

On Saturday May 9, 1942, the lives of Japanese Americans in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, were forever changed when they were given until noon to dispose of their homes and possessions, and then made to leave. They were put on buses and trains and shipped off to concentration camps where they would live for years, in some cases until after the end of the war. Opening exactly 80 years after that Saturday in May when Little Tokyo’s streets were emptied, this exhibition mobilises a variety of media forms to let visitors engage in new ways with this dark historical moment.

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles  / Through 9 October 2022

“I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli

More than a place to get a meal, the Jewish deli is a community forged in food. This exhibition explores how Jewish immigrants, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, imported and adapted traditions to create a uniquely American restaurant. Visitors can get a taste of deli history through neon signs, menus, advertisements, uniforms, photographs, and screen clips, as well as participate in fun photo ops and interactives to spark and share their own deli memories.

Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles / Through 4 September 2022

Cheech Collects

(Photo: Margaret Garcia, Down Figueroa St., Part of the Cheech Marin Collection)

One of the nation’s first permanent spaces dedicated to showcasing Chicano art and culture opens this June, with visitors treated to the centre’s first exhibition which weaves a story of Cheech Marin’s 40-year journey as an art collector. The exhibition features works by some of the most respected Chicana/o artists in the world, many of whom are considered pioneers, trailblazers, and even rule-breakers. It includes beautiful and complex works – some on view for the first time – designed to raise visibility for social justice issues, and help shape our popular, political, and cultural consciousness.

The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum, Riverside / 18 June 2022 – 18 June 2023

Andrea Bowers

Installation view, Andrea Bowers, MCA Chicago. November 20, 2021 – March 27, 2022. (Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)

For more than 30 years, Los Angeles-based artist Andrea Bowers has combined artistic practice with activism and advocacy, speaking to perceived inequities as well as the generations of activists working to create what they claim would be a more just world. Bringing together approximately 60 works as well as a trove of ephemera, this exhibition traces the entire scope and evolution of her 20-plus year career, reflecting Bowers’ embrace and experimentation with a wide range of mediums, including drawing, performance, installation, sculpture, video, and neon sculptures.

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles / 19 June – 4 September 2022

Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision

(Photo: My Roots, 1970–1971, by Carlos Villa (American, 1936–2013). Acrylic and feathers on canvas. H. 91.5 in. x W. 93.25 in. x D. 6 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Neysa McMein Purchase Award, 72.21.)

The paintings, drawings, sculptures, self-portraits, and performance art of San Francisco artist Carlos Villa are filled with imagery inspired by his study of non-Western art and culture, including ethnographic objects he observed in museums. Celebrating his work and enduring influence, this exhibition shows Villa not only as one of the most important artists of his generation, but also as a teacher, curator, activist, and community organiser. Showcasing 36 works created between 1959 and 2011, it introduces the artist to new audiences, illuminating the social and cultural roots, as well as the global importance, of his art.

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco / 17 June – 24 October 2022

Moving Pictures: The Photography of Irene Poon, 1960s to present

This exhibition features the work and collection of photographer Irene Poon, born to first-generation Chinese immigrants in San Francisco’s famed Chinatown in 1941, and whose career spans from the 1960s to the present day. As well as highlighting work from Poon’s photography collection, the exhibition also displays an excellent representation of vintage photography, including work by Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Minor White, Don Worth, Wright Morris, Imogen Cunningham, Charles Wong, and Benjamen Chinn, among others.

Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco State University / 2 July 2022

City of Cinema: Paris 1850–1907

(Photo: Still from the film Exposition Universelle 1900, Gaumont, 1900, Document GP Archives, Collection Gaumont)

Placing cinema in the context of 19th-century Parisian visual culture, this exhibition explores how film emerged amid a wave of social, political, artistic, and technological developments. It brings together paintings, sculpture, posters, prints, photography, and film to reflect the range of artistic experiments that culminated in cinema as a mass medium, serving to reveal how citizens became spectators, and how film evolved from novel entertainment to the greatest art form of the 20th century.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Through 10 July 2022

Gonzalo Lebrija: Miracle of the Eternal Present

The works of Mexican artist Gonzalo Lebrija are unified by his search for evidence of higher meaning or transcendence. At times, he finds this transcendence through stasis, such as depictions of cuban cigar smokers captured in a moment of repose offering a counterpoint to the agitated state of a modern, consumer-oriented society. Featuring a wide range of mediums – including photography, video, sculpture, and painting – this exhibition surveys more than two decades of Lebrija’s work, highlighting his ability to reframe familiar objects or activities, sometimes altered only slightly, to imbue them with poetic and symbolic force.

Palm Springs Art Museum / Through 2 October 2022

Wendy Red Star: American Progress

(Photo: Wendy Red Star, Dust, 2021. Three-color lithograph on Somerset Satin soft white, with archival pigment printed chine collé on mulberry paper, ed. 13/25 20.25 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters. Photo: Nika Blasser)

The work of artist Wendy Red Star, who was raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, is informed by her cultural heritage and engagement with many forms of creative expression, including photography, sculpture, video, fibre arts, and performance. Featuring several installations created exclusively for the exhibition, this display explores the ideas of Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny through the lens of John Gast’s 1872 painting, American Progress. Within it, Red Star addresses the racism, displacement, and culture that expanded the country into the Western United States, explorations of the nation’s shared histories, and colourful lithographs that present her own genealogy.

Anderson Collection at Stanford University / Through 28 August 2022

Planet or Plastic?

This exhibition examines the global plastic waste crisis, showcasing innovators working to solve this urgent issue. Organised by the National Geographic Society, the national touring exhibition aims to raise awareness of the plastics crisis and provide actionable steps visitors can take in their lives to reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse products with single-use plastic. It tells the story behind plastic from its invention just over a century ago to its current mass consumption through 70 profound photographs, powerful infographics and videos.

The California Museum, Sacramento / Through 7 August 2022

Modernism in Miniature

(Photo: Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948) Lust Murder Box #2, 1920-1922  Inlaid exotic wood box (crafted by Albert Schulze, Hannover) Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Kate Steinitz © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)

Revolutionary manifestoes, huge canvases and heroic proclamations have set a standard for monumental works of modern art. Yet, many modernists engaged quite a different impulse. This exhibition features works by artists who have employed the miniature  as a  challenge to the equivalence between ambition and immensity. Spanning everything from German Expressionism to American Pop art, it explores the potential of small works of art, probing the relationship between miniaturised spaces and the urge to collect and display, enclose and possess, and in turn revealing a counter-history of 20th-century art.

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena / 12 August 2022 – 9 January 2023

Out of Step / Out of Line

In the tattoo studio, artists are called to perform; clients request their hand to illustrate a pre-conceived idea, approved and transferred from carbon paper to skin. In their studio practice comes the freedom to move out of line, to work without expectation, and explore different mediums and subject matters. Co-curated with San Pedro-based artist Nathan Kostechko, this exhibition examines the latter— artists who navigate a fine line between an external perception of their work via tattooing, and their own interests, backgrounds, and cultural heritage that inform a wider practice.

Long Beach Museum of Art / Through 26 June 2022

Bond in Motion

Much like the novels on which they are based, James Bond films combine the adventure of exotic locations and scheming villains with the action of death-defying stunts, and heart-pounding chases in nearly every type of vehicle imaginable. Often modified by quartermaster “Q,” these vehicles, much like Bond himself, conceal their true nature until their weapons and gadgetry become important plot devices. The first official US display to feature original vehicles from the Bond film franchise, this exhibition offers visitors a rare up-close experience of the most iconic vehicles associated with the world’s most famous secret agent.

Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles / Through 30 October 2022

Radiant And Eternal: Chinese Jades From The Permanent Collection

Chinese,19th–20th century, Incense Burner in the form of a Bronze Ritual Vessel, n.d.. Nephrite, 8 1/8 x 5 1/2 in. (Photo: Crocker Art Museum, gift of Eugenia and Kathleen King, 2021.14.18)

Since Neolithic times, jade has been valued for its beauty and seeming indestructibility. Early Chinese jades were painstakingly ground and polished into ornaments, ritual weapons, and implements for use in burials and religious ceremonies. Many later jades were revivals of classic bronze ritual vessel forms, while others were decorative or functional objects prized by scholars and collectors for everyday use. Both nephrite and jadeite are represented in this exhibition, which includes selections from a recent gift of 19th to 20th-century jade vessels and sculptures, as well as jades for personal use and adornment.

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento / Through 13 November 2022

Fox Movie Flash: The Street Vendor Camera in San Francisco, 1950-1963

This is the first exhibition ever devoted to Street Vendor Portraits, a form of photography practised worldwide from the 1930s through the 1970s, long before we carried digital cameras.  Street vendor photographers snapped first, then surprised customers with the offer of a portrait as soon as the film got developed and printed. Today these full-length pictures of ordinary people – photographed on the street just like movie stars caught by paparazzi—survive in flea markets and family albums.

California Museum of Photography, Riverside / Through 27 November 2022

Edith Heath: A Life in Clay

At once a trailblazer, rebel, and revolutionary, Edith Heath is widely credited for having transformed the ceramics industry, creating dinnerware from California clay for “Sunday best” and everyday use. Driven by the power of good design, and a commitment to her craft, the founder and designer of Heath Ceramics had a vision that continues to live on through her stoneware and tile work over 70 years later. Combining historic objects, photographs, documentary video and personal memorabilia, this exhibition showcases Heath’s story and her enduring legacy.

Oakland Museum of California / Through 30 October 2022

This Is Not America’s Flag

(Photo: Hank Willis Thomas)

Featuring works by over 20 artists, this exhibition turns the spotlight on the myriad ways artists explore the symbol of the flag of the United States of America, underscoring its vast, divergent, and complex meanings. Developed conceptually in the summer of 2020 during the groundswell of activism for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd, the exhibition provides a critical discourse on the symbol’s meaning, the complexity and contradictions of contemporary national identity, and artists as active citizens.

The Broad, Los Angeles / Through 25 September 2022

Momentary Stillness

Building on the power of art to comfort and uplift the soul, this exhibition has been designed to serve as a quiet space for gathering and contemplation. A selection of paintings, prints, watercolours and sculptures – each imbued with profound meanings – creates an environment that is beneficial to slowing down and looking beyond. According to its creators, the ultimate aim of the project is to prompt an internal dialogue with the works on display and facilitate a mental escape, even if temporary, from the daily pressures and uncertainties that the global pandemic has created in recent years.

Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara / 1 August 2022 – 31 January 2023