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Copyright wearefreewheeling.org.uk / Videographer: Norman Lomax
A still from Sue Austin's video work, "Creating the Spectacle! Part 1 - Finding Freedom," is on view at ICA San Diego's Balboa Park location through Jun. 26, 2022.

5 works of art to see in San Diego in April

Notable work of art now on view in the region, including Yayoi Kusama at MCASD La Jolla; James E. Watts at Oceanside Museum of Art; Sue Austin at ICA San Diego; Yolanda López at MCASD San Diego; and moses at the Mingei.

Sue Austin: 'Creating the Spectacle! Part 1 - Finding Freedom'

On view at Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego through Jun. 26, 2022

The new "Surface Tension" exhibition at ICA San Diego's Balboa Park location is a series of video works that explore the human relationship to the ocean. Many of the works explore human destruction of the ocean, but Sue Austin's short film, "Creating the Spectacle! Part 1 - Finding Freedom," focuses on the connections, and the hope the ocean offers humanity.

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Courtesy of wearefreewheeling.org.uk
A still from "Creating the Spectacle! Part 1 - Finding Freedom" by Sue Austin, on view through Jun. 26, 2022 at ICA San Diego's Balboa Park location.

Austin identifies as a disabled artist, and uses a wheelchair. The 2012 video features the artist in an underwater wheelchair, gracefully exploring the undersea world, floating past schools of vivid red fish, coral and other ocean dwellers. The light and color is powerful. So much of the work is surprising at first, but soon it feels like Austin and her wheelchair belong underwater. Installed across the highest wall at ICA San Diego above the atrium, the huge projection can be seen from the museum's entrance, from the entire staircase, and even from about half of the lower level too. The placement makes the work somehow both unavoidable or obtrusive but also gentle, like we're ushered along with Austin. It's immersive for sure. [Exhibition information]

Yayoi Kusama: 'Dreaming Pumpkin'

On view at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla campus

This new acquisition for MCASD's permanent collection was gifted on the occasion of the La Jolla campus reopening this month.

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Courtesy of MCASD
Yayoi Kusama's "Dreaming Pumpkin," shown in an undated photo, will be on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla campus.

Yayoi Kusama, born in Japan and still making art at age 93, is famous for her unapologetic use of polka dots as much as she is for her large-scale mirrored immersive works, like the Infinity Mirror Rooms in The Broad's collection in LA. It's all a way of portraying repetition and obsession — informed almost entirely by the artist's own lifelong experience with hallucination. The polka dots, and sometimes the reflection, find their way onto her pumpkin series, like in "Dreaming Pumpkin." Scattered with brightly colored painted dots, this massive, reflective steel gourd is nestled prominently in the freshly renovated museum's lobby, set against floor-to-ceiling windows. [Visiting information]

James E. Watts, 'Quasimodo and Esmeralda'

On view at Oceanside Museum of Art Apr. 2 through Jul. 17, 2022

San Diego artist James E. Watts has a new solo exhibition of works, "Storyteller," on view at OMA until mid-July. It's almost impossible to talk about Watts' work without talking about his studio downtown, "The James Watts Institute for Artistic Behavior," where passersby are lured in to check out the countless in-progress sculptures and artworks. (One blogger was lured in by the table saw out on the sidewalk). Many of his works represent characters from classic literature or children's stories, and they're made from found materials, scrap metals and woods.

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Courtesy of OMA
James E. Watts' sculptures, "Quasimodo and Esmeralda" are part of his "Storyteller" exhibition, on view at Oceanside Museum of Art, Saturday, Apr. 2 through Jul. 17, 2022.

"Quasimodo and Esmeralda" is a two-figure sculpture based on Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame." Each body is shaped from a hammered together patchwork of scraps of recycled metals of varying shades and lusters, peppered with bright collaging. Esmeralda has a ouija board alphabet across her collarbones, a smattering of cut out flowers and "yes" and "no" on either breast.

There's a curious gravity to these works, and an unexpected lack of whimsy — partly due to their incredibly expressive and grave carved faces. Watts has a way of infusing character and history in his pieces, digging deeper than the story we think we know. [Exhibition details]

Yolanda López: 'Three Generations: Tres Mujeres'

On view at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (downtown) through April 24, 2022

The "Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist" exhibition closes this month at the downtown Museum of Contemporary Art, so make sure you catch this entire exhibition while you still can.

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Studio MAHA
Yolanda López's "Three Generations: Tres Mujeres" is on view at MCASD's downtown location through Apr. 24, 2022.

This is six works in one, a series of massive charcoal drawings on butcher paper. Individual titles include "Self-Portrait," "Mother," and "Grandmother," and then the responsive works, "Artist Standing as Grandmother," "Mother Standing as Artist" and "Grandmother Standing as Artist." López, who died in 2021 shortly before the exhibition opened, specifically sought to fight stereotypes of Chicana or Latina women with these works — created in 1975-76 and recently restored before being hung at MCASD. In the artist statement, López points to this intention in some of the artistic choices she made in this series, like the everyday, non-glamorous women and the massive scale to signal importance.

"I chose to work monumentally as a dramatic way of boldly characterizing each woman. I wanted to radically challenge the expectation of a small, intimate study because physically small images imply the viewer's control of attention," López wrote. (Excerpted from the MCASD exhibition catalogue.)

RELATED: 'Always in her youthfulness and in her hunger': Yolanda López at MCASD

The works are commanding and larger than life. The six figures are situated near the entrance and stare visitors down as they enter the beginning of the exhibition, equal parts a dare and an invitation to come further. My favorite part: in the way they imitate each other in the second set of works, there's an unapologetic, joyous camaraderie between the three generations of women in López's family. [Exhibition information]

moses: 'Sun Bishop'

On view at Mingei International Museum Apr. 8 through Oct. 2, 2022

moses was a Hawaiian artist known for the intricate hats he'd sculpt out of everyday brown paper bags. In a new exhibition at the Mingei, "Fold, Twist, Tie," a collection of his 1980s paper bag hats will be on view alongside his photography of beachgoers wearing his sculptures.

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Courtesy of Mingei International Museum
"Sun Bishop," by moses, will be on view at the Mingei Apr. 8 through Oct. 2, 2022.

The exhibition is intended to bring the process to life, and I especially love the juxtaposition of a hat as an art object against a photo of it being worn. There's no doubt the wearer marveled or respected the work, but it feels deliciously far removed from a modern "don't touch the artwork" sensibility.

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moses
"Model wearing 'Sun Bishop,'" by moses, will be on view alongside the actual paper bag hat at the Mingei, Apr. 8 through Oct. 2, 2022.

One of my favorites is the towering "Sun Bishop" hat, constructed of repeated tube-like lengths of rolled paper bag strips, sitting high on the head like a bishop (fun fact: a bishop's hat is called a "mitre"). It's not the most elaborate of the designs in the exhibition, but that's part of its charm. [Exhibition information]

Corrected: April 1, 2022 at 4:43 PM PDT
This story has been updated to correct the material used for the dots on "Dreaming Pumpkin."
Julia Dixon Evans writes the KPBS Arts newsletter, produces and edits the KPBS/Arts Calendar and works with the KPBS team to cover San Diego's diverse arts scene. Previously, Julia wrote the weekly Culture Report for Voice of San Diego and has reported on arts, culture, books, music, television, dining, the outdoors and more for The A.V. Club, Literary Hub and San Diego CityBeat. She studied literature at UCSD (where she was an oboist in the La Jolla Symphony), and is a published novelist and short fiction writer. She is the founder of Last Exit, a local reading series and literary journal, and she won the 2019 National Magazine Award for Fiction. Julia lives with her family in North Park and loves trail running, vegan tacos and live music.
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