I love the Hammer. I love the lobby’s constantly changing art exhibit, I love meeting up with friends at the Hammer Cafe (delicious food by Wolfgang Puck) and I really love scouring the book store, which always tempts me with an unusual gift, or hard-to-find art book. This weekend, I ducked in to see the museum’s first ever Biennial, Made in LA 2012, a summer-long extravaganza that’s so big it took three museums to contain all the work. By choosing 60 living (and local) artists, the Made in LA crew allows us regular folks a glimpse into what contemporary artists are doing (and getting noticed for). A generous art patron has put up a $100,000 prize for the artist chosen as the favorite. Better yet, it’s kind of cool that that we regular folks get to vote on who wins this prize come August. So when you visit the show, sign-up in the lobby and you’ll get a chance to cast your vote by the end of the summer or one of three finalists.
The first thing I looked at was kind of neat – a room with mirrors hanging from the ceiling, that I navigated to find a seat in the semi-darkness. Two movie screens flanked my chair; on the first, a musician played the marimba with spectacular skill and passion- the music made the performance intriguing. As I watched and listened, the mirrors twisted in the air, offering reflections of my fellow listeners, as well as the video on the opposite wall of another marimba player, who was watching and not performing during the period we observed the art piece. As guests, we smiled at each other, listened to the concert and – I assume – entertained thoughts about the nature of performance and attendance, while enjoying the concert and relaxing to the dulcet tones of dueling marimbas. The artist is Koki Tanaka.
Once in the main galleries, exploring each artist’s project, I found myself relying on the description of art work on the wall to ‘understand’ what was being presented. Contemporary art is like a mystery box -you have to unpack the meaning oftentimes, fighting your desire for beauty or order, and getting to the heart of the artist’s process. The meanings weren’t always easy to decipher without this curatorial assist. Traditional notions of beauty are tossed aside out of disinterest or denial so the viewing experience is less relaxing than, for instance, looking at Monet’s lilies… which is probably exactly the point. We must wrangle with form and process (as in the case of Dan Finsel’s large mud cast and the accompanying video about his obsession with Farah Fawcett and a mud cast she made with an artist.) Often these exercises lead to more self-reflection than anything else, which is fine as long as you embrace process. Alternately, you can just relax and let yourself be drawn to a particular piece of art. Like a little girl who had plopped herself down in front of a lit terrarium temple containing a few clay pieces, most notably a banana. We trailed around the galleries, and she kept saying “I like the banana” – no matter what else she looked at.
Form and process came together pleasingly for me when I beheld the work of Channa Horwitz, an artist who restricted herself to a particularly limited vocabulary, and yet produced magical works of order and beauty. See if you like Channa Horwitz’s work as much as I do…
Made in LA 2012 runs throughout the summer at three venues: the main show is at the Hammer in Westwood; the work of a group called Slanguage will be playing at LA><ART, and several other artists will be represented at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park. Peruse the excellent Made in LA 2012 website, which includes an app for following the show and another for you to listen to while you travel between venues. How LA is that?
The Venice Beach Biennial takes place on the beach on July 15 and promises to be a hoot. Bookmark this calendar page (or download the app) so you can keep abreast of the many adjunct performances and lectures that are part of the citywide arts effort.