Hammer Transformation Preview

Were there awards for Most Improved Vanity Museum, the Hammer would win hands-down. Armand Hammer was apparently only mortal soul who saw a need for a museum bearing his name. He had 15 days to enjoy that distinction before his 1990 demise.  

Ill-conceived museums rarely get a do-over. But in 1994 UCLA took over management of Hammer's financially distressed institution. The oilman's spotty Old Master and Impressionist holdings had maybe five world-class paintings and zero prospect of growing that number. The university began a radical course correction, hiring Ann Philbin (in 1999) to transmute the Hammer into a contemporary museum worthy of UCLA's stellar arts faculty. Philbin in turn hired Michael Maltzan to renovate the unloved Edward Larrabee Barnes museum building for its new mission. The work cost $90 million over 20 years. The final phase debuts Mar. 26, along with exhibitions and installations filling nearly the entire building with the Hammer's growing collection of contemporary art. 

Now christened the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Cultural Center, the building has a new entrance at Wilshire and Westwood; a glass-enclosed gallery along Wilshire; a sculpture terrace. These ground floor spaces are showing exactly three very large artworks, by Chiharu Shiota, Rita McBride, and Sanford Biggers.  

The lobby is a much brighter, more appealing place. But the Hammer is still staircase intensive. Not changed is that you need to ascend two staircases, and turn half a dozen times, to get from the lobby to the main exhibition floor. (Elevators are another option.) 
Chiharu Shiota, The Network, 2023
The Hammer's ongoing series of staircase installations continues with Shiota's The Network. The artist deploys 800 pounds of yarn to achieve a horror-film vibe and a nod to Japan's postwar Gutai movement.  
To access the new ground-floor gallery you take a surprise detour through another lobby, Maltzan's suave update of Claud Beelman's 1962 office tower lobby. This leads to the so-called Bank Gallery, formerly occupied by City National Bank.
Rita McBride, Particulates, 2017. Hammer Museum, gift of Brenda R. Potter
Wilshire traffic becomes part of McBride's laser installation. From the outside, the lasers are visible at night. This gallery has been left unfinished at McBride's request, for a ruins-of-capitalism effect. It will eventually get a more conventional gallery finish. With this room, the museum has 27,875 sf of exhibition space, up from 18,300 sf pre-transformation.
Sanford Biggers, Oracle, 2021, Courtesy of the artist, Marianne Boesky Gallery, and Art Production Fund
The sculpture terrace, accessible from the glass-enclosed gallery, is about 5 feet below the sidewalk. Given the massive plinth of Oracle, it feels more like a well than a terrace. Oracle is best seen from the sidewalk. It may seem like a 24-ft-tall bronze is a one-off, but it appears the terrace is intended for works of this monumental scale. (Oracle is a loan and will be on view for at least a year.)
Sanford Biggers discusses Oracle for media and passers-by

The main galleries are on the third floor. Crisp graphics and accent walls help visitors navigate the temporary exhibitions (currently five, plus an installation of Armand Hammer's paintings).

"Together in Time: Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection" is by far the largest sampling of that trove, and many of the works have never been on view. As announced in 2005, this collection was to consist of works on paper, created by So. Cal. artists within the past 10 years. All three restrictions were quickly dropped. The collection evolved into a global and multi-media survey of contemporary art. It now has over 4000 objects, of which about 100 are on view.

Anyone who's followed the  Hammer over the years knows that they've acquired some wonderful things. But this selection shows just how strong the collection has become—and also how different it is from other collections. Unlike other contemporary museums in L.A., the Hammer has been spared the overweening influence of one or two collectors. (Hammer didn't do contemporary art, so they were starting from scratch.) Despite bearing the name of a guy that few really liked, the Hammer has come to rival MOCA and LACMA for donations of art and acquisition funds. Consider it the anti-Broad, foregrounding an artist's artist sensibility over buzz.

Eva Hesse, untitled, 1964. Hammer Museum, promised gift of Susan and Larry Marx

"Together in Time" starts with this bang, an Eva Hesse painting from 1964. 

Lee Mullican, Ninnekah Calendar, 1951. Purchase and partial gift of Bill Resnick. (c) 2012 Estate of Lee Mullican

Nearby are paintings by husband-and-wife Lee Mullican and Luchita Hurtado. The Mullican is the earliest painting (1951) in the exhibition and, with the Hesse, one of the few abstractions. For the most part, figurative rules.

Luchita Hurtado, untitled, 1969. Hammer Museum
"Together in Time" with untitled Laura Owens work, 2016. Hammer Museum
Tishan Hsu, Breath 3, 2021. Hammer Museum. Promised gift of Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard
rafa esparza, Sebastian as Chilchiuhtlicue, 2019. Hammer Museum
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Ike Ya, 2016. Hammer Museum

Roland Reiss, The Castle of Perseverance, 1978. Hammer Museum
Llyn Foulkes, Lucky Adam, 1985. Hammer Museum
Noah Purifoy, Snow Hill, 1989. Hammer Museum, gift of Lynda Thomas

Dierick Brackens, bitter attendance, drew jubilee, 2018. Purchased with funds provided by Beth Rudin DeWoody
Sasha Gordon, Bonfire, 2021. Hammer Museum
Patrick Jackson, Heads, Hands, and Feet, 2011. Hammer Museum,  purchased with funds provided by Sharon Tabassi
Ben Sakoguchi, Towers, 2014. Hammer Museum, promised gift of Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy
Detail of Towers
Detail of Towers
Richard Hawkins, disembodied zombie ben green, 1997. Hammer Museum, gift of Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell

Karon Davis, Stairway to Heaven, untitled, and Principal Lewis, all 2019. Hammer Museum

"Together in Time" runs through Aug. 20, 2023. Ann Philbin, Connie Butler, Aram Moshayedi, Erin Christovale, Ali Sobotnick, and Vanessa Arizmendi curated.

Also on view are— 

• "Karon Davis: Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection" (through Apr. 9, 2023) shows three works on gun violence in schools. Occupying the Vault Gallery, it will be followed by installations of work by Kaari Upson (Apr. 22–June 18, 2023) and Kara Walker (July 8–Sep. 3, 2023).

• "Cruel Youth Diary: Chinese Photography and Video from the Haudenschild Collection" through May 14, 2023) celebrates a recent gift of work from the 1990s and 2000s by the Haudenschild family.

• "Full Burn: Video from the Hammer Contemporary Collection" (through Sep. 10, 2023) will show two artists at a time, in 10 rotations. 

That's in addition to the loan exhibition of Bridget Riley drawings. To come this summer is another permanent collection show:

• "Ecstatic: Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection" (June 10–Aug. 27, 2023) will consider the relations between drawing and sculpture. Artists span Lauren Halsey, Simone Leigh, Paul McCarthy, Senga Nengudi, and Jim Shaw.


Anonymous said…
Although the Hammer's former Da Vinci Codex Leicester was of technical-symbolic value more than of artistic one, it was a Da Vinci. And there aren't a whole lot of his works around.

As for contemporary art museums, they're increasingly a dime a dozen, one often being a mirror image of the other. All loaded down with works by hundreds (or thousands) of artists of varying levels of skill and talent---a huge blur affected by tastemakers and opinion shapers. Folks working on both sides of the visual field whose output sometimes makes me think of a cultural version of bitcoin.

The clash of the hipster contemporary with the "treacle" traditional of the Lucas Museum should ramp up the concept of: "Beauty (or good or bad art) is altogether in the eye of the beholder."
Anonymous said…
^^^What nonsense!
Anonymous said…
>"Consider it the anti-Broad, foregrounding an artist's artist sensibility over buzz."

Some of the artists in the "Together in Time" exhibition are "buzz" artists, your term for artists whose value depends largely on market forces.

The list includes:

That's not to say there is nothing "there" there. It's just the case that the presence of these artists in the Hammer Collection strongly suggests that the same forces that constituted the Broad Collection may be at work here too.
Anonymous said…
The technical, creative skill of X percentage of artists is generally good enough (and therefore one big blur too) that the way their work is judged and rated nowadays seems to be even more a case of "in the eye of the beholder." Or a case of in the eye of traders, influencers and tastemakers, all affected by the politics of hype, money, power.

But, yea, that's always been true. The flip side of that in the 2020s is the way that Van Gogh during his lifetime was treated as no big deal by his era's traders, influencers and tastemakers. But decades of modern and contemporary art, from the abstract to the figurative, somehow seem even more affected by timing, sheer luck and one's social circles (eg, Jeff Koons and the jetsetters of NYC).

I doubt that a variety of artists of today would pass a technical test that their predecessors of generations ago would have been good at. Then again, a Edward Hopper (who's creatively way more of a standout compared with a pre-Raphaelite) also might not pass that test.

I recall a major art critic over 25 years ago dismissing Jean-Michel Basquiat. That made me pause and question how other critics rated him. But today I can at least identify Basquiat's particular style. From that standpoint, he's not a part of the big blur.

Too bad that works of a Hopper, as one example, won't make up too much of the Lucas museum. Such paintings very much fit the concept of "narrative."

Rather than trash the effects by others on who wins and who loses in the art game, why not worry about what _you_ think about the qualities of an artist's work.
Tell us what you like, and why. Honestly!
This incessant Pavlovian "in the eye of the beholder" crank you're turning out is so boring.
Use your mind. Be your own critic.
Anonymous said…
> This incessant Pavlovian "in the eye of the beholder" crank you're turning
> out is so boring.

Boring or not boring, mundane or exciting, excellence or mediocrity, hip or non-hip also are very much in the eye of the beholder.
Anonymous said…
Here is the ARTnews Critic on the Hammer's contemporary holdings:

"The exhibition tied to the unveiling, “Together in Time,” presents a tightly packed cross-section of the museum’s contemporary holdings, not quite chronologically or thematically, but through the lens of recent market forces; think a grid painting by Charles Gaines from 2019, the year after the 79-year-old artist joined the roster of Hauser & Wirth, or a 2019 portrait by Amoako Boafo, gifted by his local gallerists, Julie and Bennett Roberts."

It's almost as if the critic cribbed her review from the post above --- the post about market forces and the Hammer Collection.


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