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Does Tim Hawkinson Have Multiple Personalities?

The opening of Tim Hawkinson's exhibition at LACMA a couple of weeks ago turned into an event memorable not only as a chance to celebrate the work of one of the most inventive artists working today, but also an occasion to observe a crowd behaving in a most unusual way: with goofy smiles on their faces, adult men and women were giggling or intently staring in total disbelief. And let me admit for the record that, as for myself, I was guilty on both counts.

This mid-career survey of Los Angeles based artist was jointly organized by LACMA and the Whitney Museum, where it was first seen earlier this year and greeted with much public and critical acclaim. No one is safe from the irresistible charm of Tim Hawkinson's art, which has an appeal to a variety of folks with different sensibilities. Miles of electric cords are everywhere: to power engines, to make sculptures move, to blow air into a life-sized self-portrait balloon suspended from the ceiling. In one instance, the whole gallery wall---from floor to ceiling---is inflated with air, making it look like the squarish, beautiful, pregnant belly of a very, very large woman. And that's not all. In one case, yards of thick orange extension cords are tightly woven to resemble a pair of shorts. In another instance, we are staring at a large photograph of the artist's face, with dozens of electric wires dangling from his eyes, eyebrows, nostrils and lips. On the floor nearby, there's a chunky contraption that sends electric signals to this portrait, contorting the face slowly into extreme expressions, defying anything you've ever seen before. This is a person you'd probably want to avoid even in the daytime, never mind the dark streets at night.

It's expected---it's normal for young children to have an insatiable curiosity and openness about the world around them. They ask thousands of questions: What is that? Why? How does it work? But to encounter such boundless curiosity and enthusiasm in a 45-year-old artist, with at least twenty years of art making under his belt---is extremely rare and inspiring. Tim Hawkinson works in such a variety of ways, and in so many mediums, that unsuspecting visitors would be excused in thinking that they're seeing-not a solo---but a large, group show.

There is not much stylistic unity to the artist's work, with the exception of his disconcertingly fertile imagination. Could he be an alien from another planet? Each new work is created with the freedom and innocence of someone who never looks over his shoulder for audience approval. Makes me think about the Almighty, who was free to experiment with the creation of Adam and Eve---critics be damned. One moment, the artist fashions the tiny skeleton of a deliciously creepy bird, made entirely from fingernail clippings---probably his---ouch! In the next moment, he conceives a gigantic sculpture, occupying a whole gallery, with twelve life-sized sculptures standing, sitting, and lying on the branches of an enormous tree. Visitors' movement through the gallery activates a hidden mechanism, which makes each of the figures beat on a drum, sending syncopated rhythms into the air. The only disappointment for me, in visiting this enormously entertaining exhibition, was in running into the artist himself: a very charming and exceedingly normal looking fellow, with a lovely wife and adoring daughter in tow. Damn, what a disappointment!

Tim Hawkinson
LA County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90036
323-857-6000
Through August 28

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