Los Angeles

Diana Thater, A Cast of Falcons (detail), 2008, four video projectors, computer, two spotlights. Installation view. Photo: Fredrik Nilson.

Diana Thater, A Cast of Falcons (detail), 2008, four video projectors, computer, two spotlights. Installation view. Photo: Fredrik Nilson.

Diana Thater

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Diana Thater, A Cast of Falcons (detail), 2008, four video projectors, computer, two spotlights. Installation view. Photo: Fredrik Nilson.

“The Sympathetic Imagination”—a title taken from J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello (2003)—aptly describes both the sensibility that runs through Diana Thater’s practice and the artist’s careful consideration of her viewer, as evidenced by this timely, generous, and thoughtfully curated survey. Divided between LACMA’s Art of the Americas galleries and those of its Broad Contemporary Art Museum (unaffiliated with the Broad museum several miles east), this exhibition, organized by Lynn Cooke, senior curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and LACMA’s Christine Y. Kim, animates and connects Thater’s signature close encounters with other species.

Upon entrance to the Art of the Americas galleries, the viewer encounters knots + surfaces, 2001—footage of a swarm of bees that frenetically land on and launch from honeycombs—projected diagonally across the gallery onto the floor, wall, and ceiling. A bank of sixteen monitors, collectively displaying a single image of a bright orange flower, acts as the fantastical prompt for the frenetic hive. The vibrant and translucent coloration continues in the next room, where Thater’s Untitled Videowall (Butterflies), 2008, enlarges and abstracts her subjects’ wings. The rectangular monitors, arranged screen-side up to form a prone pinwheel on the gallery floor, effectively direct our attention toward the four doorways of the room. Beyond this emanates the watery blue of Delphine, 1999, a multichannel work projected onto the high gallery walls and floor, immersing us amid a pod of dolphins. LED lights and colored gels on the gallery windows intensify the phenomenological journey, warmly accentuating the interaction of the viewer’s shadow with the projections and providing a sense of commonality with Thater’s animals and insects.

The second part of “The Sympathetic Imagination” is housed in the imposing third-floor galleries of the BCAM building. Any doubts that Thater could command such a large (and somewhat soulless) space while maintaining the integrity and force of her practice were dispelled by an approximately four-thousand-square-foot segment given over to her A Cast of Falcons, 2008, a work that is reconceived to play off of the scale and architectural configurations of each new venue. Flanked by two enormous slide projections of a blue sun and a yellow moon, respectively, the hooded falcons glide in turn along a hundred-foot-long wall yet somehow stay this side of monumentality: They are apparitions, not overbearing signifiers. This shift in scale, evident in all three of the works on display at BCAM, creates the effect of a crescendo, as if in deference to the harsher truths revealed here about human impact on the natural world. The falcons, held static and calm by their hoods and jesses before their release; the rhesus macaque monkeys (used in experimental medical vivisections because of their chromosomal affinity to us) in Life Is a Time-Based Medium, 2015, set in a Hindu monkey-god temple; and the wild Przewalski’s horses that roam 2011’s Chernobyl, installed in a six-sided room that echoes the deserted theater depicted, encourage us to think about the consequences of human actions on these marvelous species.

Green Dragon Office’s Lorraine Wild and Xiaoqing Wang have produced an acutely sensitive publication that is the exhibition design’s equal. The show, additionally accompanied by an online digital supplement by Thater and production designer Patti Podesta, offers an extended meditation on this remarkable artist.

Charlotte Cotton