"Nine Lives" at the Hammer
The three rules of biennials are simple. 1. Upgrade the reputation of an Old Master by showing him/her next to the kids. 2. Have a theme. 3. Ignore the theme and assemble such a profligate variety of artists and work that no one can tell what the curator actually likes. The UCLA Hammer Museum's "Nine Lives: Visionary Artists from L.A." follows this template to a T. Curated by Ali Subotnick, "Nine Lives" is billed as the museum's fifth biennial of L.A. art. Its predecessors (most memorably, 2005's "Thing") have indeed come out like clockwork, but unless I missed something, they weren't labeled with the B-word.
The show begins with Old Master Llyn Foulkes and makes a creditable case for why he matters now. Moving to the young people, the standouts are Charles Irvin and Victoria Reynolds. Irvin is a funny/creepy draftsman in the Mike Kelley mode (pictured, Untitled, 2008). Despite that, the focus of Irvin's room is a rivetingly paranoid video on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a real organization (I am reasonably sure). Think Descartes, Glenn Beck, Philip K. Dick, the Church of the SubGenius, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Then check out the False Memory Syndrome Foundation website:
Some of our memories are true, some are a mixture of fact and fantasy, and some are false -- whether those memories seem to be continuous or seem to be recalled after a time of being forgotten or not thought about.
Then how can we know if our memories are true? The professional organizations agree: the only way to distinguish between true and false memories is by external corroboration.
I repeat, I think the False Memory Syndrome Foundation is for real. The text and plain-vanilla .html are worthy of Irvin, though. The FMSF site attempts to bootstrap its credibility with a link to a copy of the Wikipedia article on the foundation, warning that "The content of the current Wikipedia page is beyond the control of the FMSF and may at times include hostile and false information." Whoever wrote that, it's a perfect gloss on what passes for reality today.
A queasy sense of trompe l'oeil also informs the very different work of Victoria Reynolds. She's a painter whose subject is offal, rendered as meticulous all-over still lifes (top, Flight of the Reindeer, 2003). In both technique and novelty, Reynolds bears comparison with Raphaelle Peale's still lifes of meat (the best, his 1816 Cutlet and Vegetables, is in the Timken Museum, San Diego).
By the way, don't miss Reynolds' little reindeer trophy in Jeffrey Vallance's "Brown Wall," also on view, nor the new, improved, and magnificently content-dense Hammer Museum website.