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.
|Chiharu Shiota, The Network, 2023|
|Rita McBride, Particulates, 2017. Hammer Museum, gift of Brenda R. Potter|
|Sanford Biggers, Oracle, 2021, Courtesy of the artist, Marianne Boesky Gallery, and Art Production Fund|
|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.