For over a decade, the Hammer Museum has presented several bi-annual invitational exhibitions, examining the current edge of artistic practice in Southern California. Organized in association with LA_ART, “Made in LA 2012” is at once the Hammer’s latest presentation, and the first of a projected series of biennial exhibitions highlighting new work by Los Angeles area artists, “with an emphasis on emerging and under-recognized artists.” That is to say (insert drumroll): an LA Biennial. The team of five curators includes the Hammer’s Anne Ellegood and Ali Subotnik, along with Lauri Firstenberg, Cesar Garcia, and Malik Gaines from LA_ART. Spanning a deliberately wide range of mediums, the show presents 60 artists divided between two principal venues–spread out across The Hammer Museum, in Westwood, and the LA Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park, in Los Feliz–as well as LA_ART and a trio of billboards. It also spans to include various performances and public programs. The following pages give a glimpse of some of the more intriguing artists represented in the show.
Painting Tile Floor, 2011-12, Ry Rocklen
Photo: Brian Forrest, courtesy of the artist and UNTITLED, New York
On view at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles June 2, 2012-September 2, 2012
There’s no missing Ry Rocklen’s work in the sprawling smorgasbord that is “Made in LA.” Step through the doors of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, the easternmost branch of the exhibition, and his installation is the first thing youÕll see: a six foot tree made from copper pipe and draping strands of unspooled video tape; a checkerboard floor made from scraps of thrift store paintings; a small hay bale plated in gold; and, posted like a security guard just right of the entrance, an odd, dumpy figure of a man with a bald ceramic head and protruding eyeballs. As a threshold to what follows–indeed, its impossible to avoid walking over the work to get to the rest of the show–the installation is emblematic on a number of levels. Rocklen was, quite literally, made in LA: he was born here; went to school here, attending three of its most respected art programs (CalArts, UCLA, and the University of Southern California); and lives here currently. The city functions, in his work, as a kind of raw material, supplying the mundane miscellany of found objects–the bits of trash and broken furniture, abandoned paintings and strange ceramic heads–that he transforms by way of a playful, often decorative alchemy, into art. He’s mosaic-ed the surface of dejected mattresses; packed PVC pipes into an elegant minimalist grid in the space of a metal canopy bed frame; coated an abandoned Christmas tree in white, epoxy putty; and transformed battered animal cages into sparkling disco balls.
Rocklen is hardly alone in this approach: LA has a long history of artists mining and developing the particular grit of this city, from Ed Kienholz and Wallace Berman in the Sixties through to Mark Bradford, Jedediah Ceasar, Josh Callaghan, and countless others today. And if the roster of the biennial is to be taken as the informed cross section it claims to be, the self-conscious arrangement of pre-fabricated matter (more sophisticatedly known as ‘the found object’) is a predominate strain among artists of Rocklen’s generation: a strategy, perhaps, however conscious, for upholding the dignity and necessity of art making in the face of our culture’s unimaginable superfluity of stuff.
Rocklen does it better than most, coming at the process with an idiosyncratic sensitivity. He clearly cherishes the odd things he finds, and seems to want to do well by them. He respects their formal integrity as objects, honors their flaws, and isn’t unafraid to dress them up–in a skin of mirrored tile, for instance. Which is also to say: he isn’t afraid to throw in a little good old-fashioned fabrication, to weave the act of making in with the act of finding. ItÕs the balance Rocklen strikes between the two that gives the work its poignant resonance.
Mountains Dwarf the City, 2011, Scoli Acosta
Graphite and acrylic on paper
Collection of Frank Ascher and Ravi GuneWardena
Photo: courtesy of the artist and Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris
All Photos: On view at ÒMade in LAÓ at the Hammer Museum Los Angeles June 2, 2012-September 2, 2012
For those familiar with the work of Scoli Acosta through the handful of exhibitions in which it has appeared in Los Angeles in recent years–colorful, eccentrically meticulous installations of painting, sculpture, and video–it may come as some surprise to find that his contribution to the Hammer Biennial consists solely of drawings. Viewed against the memory of these past works, in the ostensibly illustrious context of a biennial, his grid of forty small, torn-from-a-notepad sketches appears almost willfully anticlimactic. Look closer, however, and worlds open up in the space of these seemingly scrappy drawings. Acosta is a wanderer as well as a maker, and these works present an intimate record of his roving thoughts and observations, illuminating the underpinnings of a rare creative intelligence. A yellow sun behind a gray cloud, a fighter jet, a barbershop quartet, the gothic script banner of the Los Angeles Times–Acosta gathers fragments of the world into an odd poetic harmony, no less enchanting here than in his more elaborate installations. In the meantime, as part of that ongoing pursuit, Acosta is in Morocco through the summer–6,000 miles from the fuss of the Biennial.
From Above It Is Not Bright; From Below It Is Not Dark,2012
Pearl C. Hsiung, Vinyl, oil-based enamel on MDF
Installation view at the Hammer Museum Photo: Brian Forrest
PEARL C. HSIUNG
It’s hard to say definitively whether Pearl C. Hsiung’s scaffolded mural (and accompanying window decal) is technically a painting or a site-specific installation. But when you are confronted with From Above It Is Not Bright, From Below It Is Not Dark (2012) none of that matters, because it just may be one the most beautiful objects you will ever see. Maybe it should be called an “experience.” That might be the closest thing to the artist”s intention. Its aesthetic is a pretty darkness, its style both regal and folksy, its presence both ominous and cheerful. Despite its massiveness, it comes up like a surprise. Installed on the upper mezzanine, the huge multi-panel painting is propped up from behind with professional-looking movie-set frames. It’s about a third of the balcony’s width away from the back wall–a huge window–so one can easily walk behind it. Applied to that wall of glass is a huge rainbow decal made luminous from the ambient outdoor light; it looms over the painting, and its edges line up with rainbows painted on the upper sections of the panels, extending the imagery and bridging the physical space through optical means. Thus the geographical space depicted in the painting itself, the main event despite the genre-blurring installation, is scaled and contextualized as a place sheltered by a rainstorm-related rainbow. But that rainstorm isn’t just any downpour: it is a deluge of Biblical proportions, and there is a dark and thundering, white-crested tsunami gathering itself in preparation for barreling down Wilshire. It is unclear how much destruction has already been wreaked, versus how much is imminent, but destruction is a certainty. There are even hurtling meteors.
The scaffolding physically underscores the cinematic quality of the imagery
and mythic narrative, throwing a cheeky reference to the big-budget disaster films made and frequently set here in LA, under our ironically perennial sunshine. The decals give the lie to any fear or anxiety the painting might inspire. Together with the compelling, energetic thrust of her painting style, the thing fairly screams out “allegory.” As with much of Hsiung’s imagery, thereÕs an orificial quality to the caves and waterspouts and geodes she composes that is mostly, but not entirely, sexual. It’s about the voice as well as the body, and the dangerous feminine power of the natural world, and the capacity of that power for both destruction and renewal. For example, a tsunami of pigment that lays low and reconstitutes the silly modern city. Your clue that itÕs all going to work out, like everything always does in sunny California, is the rainbow that’s already arrived. But you don’t have to contemplate any of this business of meaning to understand and enjoy her work on its visual merits. The way she pushes paint around is enviable, and she has a knack for fusing fantasy, naturalism, and painterliness with sensual quasi-abstraction and a subtext of humor. Just let it wash over you.
–shana nys dambrot
Me TV, 2012, David Snyder
Mixed-media video installation, color, sound
Installation view, Photo: Brian Forrest
Nestled in its own, curtained chamber just off the courtyard, David Snyder’s hyped-up multi-channel video installation Me TV (2012) might be in danger of being overlooked, except that you can hear it from outside. It sounds like a party is going on in there, with a lively chatter of voices, and what could be music. Its muffled cacophony seeps into the polite atmosphere of the courtyard, triggering a natural curiosity that draws you in. But it’s not a party, it’s a wired up dollhouse having a nervous breakdown. A pulled-apart whitewashed architectural confection has its curving back to the door, obscuring the source of all the noise (and the only light in the darkened gallery) until you walk its perimeter and come around into its interior, when all is revealed. The insides are a tangle of wood beams and wiring, from which chaos emerges an array of television screens incessantly looping competing content–hours of original TV satire performed by the artist himself. As a multisensory experience it is hilarious and a little histrionic; as a commentary on the feckless and overwhelmed state of the individual in the current environment of media saturation, it hits very close to home.
–shana nys dambrot
Sonakinatography Compositition 16, 1987
Channa Horwitz, Plaka on Mylar, 27″ x 23″
Photo: Joshua White, courtesy of the artist
The series of drawings and paintings by Channa Horwitz on display at the Hammer have the meditative vibration and gravitational pull of a sacred mandala. Rainbows of colored lines and graphs in Plaka, or black monochromes in ink on graph paper or Mylar, are rendered with the precision of Paulo Uccello–had the Renaissance artist veered into the universe of non-objective abstraction. Horwitz, who turned 80 this spring, and who was recently singled out in the Los Angeles Times as a reminder that artistic curiosity (and prowess) is not confined to those under 30, has been making intellectually complex work before and since receiving her BFA from CalArts in 1972. The artist’s long-standing interest in Sonakinatography, which she first developed as a notation system for representing sound and movement, is seen here in the aptly titled Sonakinatography Composition 16, a work that teases the viewer with hints of unraveling the delicate mystery of other inventions, such as the elaborate Canon I, 2nd Variation. Although the works are exacting, intricate and methodical, they are by no means dry or distant. Horwitz’s colored charts evoke musical scores, capturing an ephemeral moment through her own unique system of notation.
Proposal 1 through Proposal 5, 2012, Alex Olson, Oil on linen, Installation View
Painter Alex Olson contributes five works to the biennial that reach equally into the archives of AbEx and Minimalism, sparking a lively dialogue between the two. Olsen received her BA from Harvard and subsequently studied at CalArts, where she received her MFA in 2008; her practice combines additive and subtractive processes–impasto, sgraffito; sgraffito, impasto–suggesting a synthesis of her bicoastal education with a leaning towards historic influences. In her previous body of work, she explored abstraction with a Twombly-esque edge: a persistent scrawling relief scratched into the surface of her works ranging from a misshapen modernist grid to chaotic scrawling lines overlaid with thick patches of paint. Two of the works seen at the Hammer, Proposal 1 and 3 continue that explosive energy with bright multi-colored graffiti, while the others seem to have found a means of control without any measurable loss of passion. In Proposal 2, a transcendent white-on-silvery-white creation evoking equal helpings of James Hayward and Mary Corse, revels in pure luminosity. At the end of the lineup, Proposal 5, a curved stripe runs off the upper edge of the canvas, painted in a striking peach-on-charcoal combination, suggesting the infinite expansion of space and possibilities left open to explore.
Lisa Williamson, All works 2012, Installation view
The interplay between mediums informs the practice of numerous artists in “Made in LA,” but few pull it off with such restrained panache as Lisa Williamson. Her multi-disciplinary installation is in fact site-specific to the Hammer’s Vault Gallery. With its arched ceiling and semi-circular end point, the Vault presents a self-contained chamber, roughly halfway through the second floor galleries. Williamson interprets that midpoint consciously as a place of intermission, offering several vaguely minimalist objects seemingly at rest, which nonetheless resonate off each other like a string quartet. These include two large, tong-like sculptures, hung off the wall, a shelf unit, a panel thatÕs folded in accordion-like zigzags, and a rectangular unit resembling a mat, coated grayish pink, hung over a railing at the far end of the curving gallery next to two small boxy elements. A pair of obscure schematic drawings, and an artist’s book set near the entrance–with spare-but-elusive explanatory text, amidst sheets of colored paper–hint at the intermissionary intent behind the artistÕs intuitive juxtapositions. Despite its constrained lexicon, the work overflows with a sense of play, actively inviting the viewer to rediscover the inherent details of the space itself: a reductive cornucopia.
Still from She Gone Rogue, 2012, Zachary Drucker with Rhys Ernst, HD video, color, sound, Installation View
If issues of gender and identity have long been a battlefield in postmodern discourse, Zachary Drucker lives in the heart of the DMZ. As a transgender woman, born male, Drucker uses her body as source of inquiry to question and dismantle presumptions about sexual identity and gender roles. As a performer, photographer, and video artist (and 2007 MFA from CalArts), Drucker investigates fluidity between mediums as well
as genders. In her December show at Luis De Jesus, with Amos Mac (a female-to-male zine publisher) Drucker revisited her childhood home in Syracuse, New York, using it as backdrop in a suite of photographs mediating between the realms of the domestic and exotic, while casting the viewer in the uneasy role of voyeur. Her new work for the Hammer, a semi-narrative film called She Gone Rogue, made with Rhys Ernst, offers Drucker as protagonist in a campy/surreal odyssey. Casting iconic “underground divas” in cameo roles, alongside members of her own family, the film suggests a transgender David Lynch narrative, and expands Drucker’s ongoing inquiry into the transgender imagination. The subtext suggests a determined blurring of the tenuous line between gender “difference” and “normality,” to question gender stereotypes and expose the common yearning that informs us all.
Midnight at Malibu, 2009-10, Zach Harris
Acrylic on wood, 30″ x 25″
Collection of David Kordansky and Mindy Shapero
Located somewhere between Sixties psychedelia and Tibetian temple design, the painted artworks of Zach Harrris are at once intricate and intoxicating, and more than a little hallucinatory. While at their center, these works often seem to offer vaguely representational scenes–abstracted vistas or snippets of plants–that cryptic imagery then dissolves into complex patterning, which, in turn expands across the ornate wooden reliefs framing the works. In some cases, as with Midnight at Malibu, with its almost topographical delination of dark-hued forms, the geometric framing armature is of a separate but complementary design; in another piece, forms suggesting waves or flames or mountains in the work’s center are echoed in the red and white patterning surrounding it. With their suggestion of physics, or soundwaves, or energy, or systems, Harris’s works seem to echo the mandate of Odilon Redon, “to place the visible at the service of the invisible.” In their finely-crafted and precise ambiguity, they offer an artistic vision that is ecstatic, sacred, just a bit kitschy, and potentially transcendent. Self-contained and even modest in scale, they offer a dizzying dual window–looking simultaneously inward into the artist’s psyche and outward into a universe of physical and metaphysical wonder.