The Hammer Museum’s biennial, “Made in L.A. 2020: a version,” is still closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. Here’s a rundown of the exhibition, some standouts, and how the exhibition’s two venues vary in their presentations.
‘Made in L.A. 2020: a version,’ at the Hammer and The Huntington
When I visited The Huntington last week to view the second half of “Made in L.A. 2020: a version,” I was struck with how many people were wandering the garden’s grounds; women in large hats and couples with strollers milled about. But, the area that houses the biennial exhibition was markedly quiet. Large banners announcing the show have yet to be installed. While the gardens are open to the public, the exhibition, like its Hammer counterpart has been locked behind closed doors, silently waiting for the county to ease its coronavirus restrictions. Both exhibitions — which were initially scheduled to open in June, but only just opened to the press in recent weeks — are slated to stay open until March. But with COVID-19 cases on the rise, public engagement with the exhibition is not looking promising.
The exhibition title, “a version,” coyly explains the premise of the show; split across the two locations, both exhibitions include work by all 30 artists included and are, in a sense, dueling versions of the same show. While for many of the artists the work installed across town is similar or related to its counter-exhibition — like Christina Forrer’s playful tapestries or Diane Severin Nguyen’s fantastical photographs that embody similar scale and form at each location — some choose to install diverging bodies of work at the museum. Mario Ayala’s stunning airbrush paintings flank the walls of a large gallery in the Hammer. The surreal paintings collage an array of references — quoting car culture, advertising, and L.A. Latinx culture — into flattened compositions. Ayala’s Huntington contribution is instead an archived collection of his source material: Chicano magazines such as “Mi Vida Loca” and “Teen Angels.” Miles away from his paintings, this archive offers context and visual cues present in the artist’s work, while maintaining distance and denying a direct correlation.
Nicola L.’s evocative “La Chambre en fourrure” on view at The Hammer — a furry purple cube with inward facing costumes, that pre-COVID times would have incited viewer participation — is met by a set of singular costumes at The Huntington; flat fabric panels with protruding arms, legs, and faces. Throughout the exhibition at both locations, the curators — Myriam Ben Salah, Lauren Mackler, and the Hammer’s Ikechúkwú Onyewuenyi — excelled in presenting small groupings of artists in each gallery to create conversations across the work. It’s a welcome reprieve from the often overwhelming nature of biennial exhibitions. Nicola L.’s standout “Canapé Homme Géant/Sofa Homme (Giant Cut in Pieces),” a couch shaped in the figure of a man with detachable limbs piled on top as pillows, shared space at The Huntington with Reynaldo Rivera’s photographs of the 90’s queer club scene in Los Angeles — both works playfully bend the boundaries around masculinity and gender.
The Huntington installation also brings an opportunity to engage with artworks in their collection, which remain on view in neighboring galleries. For instance, Patrick Jackson chose to install his work at The Huntington in an emerald green room that houses Harriet Hosmer’s 1859 marble sculpture “Zenobia in Chains.” The outsized white marble figure stands regally in the center of the room bathed in light from a corner skylight. In contrast to the regal Zenobia, two barefoot male figures clad in Levi’s jean jackets and trousers lay down in opposite corners of the room, one with black gloves, one with red, long hair and beard on each. These figures, cast from Jackson’s own body and titled “Head, Hands and Feet,” not only create an uncanny relationship with each other, but also with Hosmer’s sculpture, and Jackson’s own sculptural monument installed miles away at the Hammer.
Buck Ellison also chose to engage with The Huntington’s collection. While at The Hammer, his installation of images that depict white privilege take up a large gallery space, at The Huntington, he opted to hang his photograph in one of the collections galleries, a room painted baby pink, next to a John Singleton Copley painting of two regal young lads. Ellison’s photograph shows a book opened to a page with a similar painting, paired with other trappings of wealth: lacrosse shorts, tennis balls, roses. Kandis Williams’ collages also take a more overt critical turn at the Huntington, picturing the institution’s billionaire founder, Henry E. Huntington, doubling as Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring his Son.”
While both exhibitions remain closed to the public, a couple of artist’s works are available to view around town, and may be the only works that the public will be able to see in person. Kahlil Joseph’s “BLKNWS,” co-produced with Los Angeles Nomadic Division, is a newsfeed that highlights the Black experience. It's streaming at 12 businesses around Los Angeles, such as Natraliart Jamaican Restaurant in West Adams and Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Highland Park. Larry Johnson’s billboards can be found around MacArthur Park via a map on the Hammer’s website. Ligia Lewis’ “Deader than Dead,” an evocative dance performance that the artist adapted to a video format once live performance became unattainable due to the pandemic, is available online.
Though a myriad of enticing paintings across both exhibitions — including works by Katja Seib, Brandon D. Landers, Fulton Leroy Washington, and Umar Rashid to name a few — dazzle in person, painting perhaps is a more adaptable medium to be viewed as small jpegs on the Hammer’s website. Still, other work, like Sabrina Tarasoff’s “Beyond Baroque,” a literal haunted house installation at The Huntington, cannot be easily adapted to on-screen viewing, and requires an in-person experience. The installation features artworks and ephemera by artists involved in the Beyond Baroque Literary Art Center in the 1970s and 1980s (Marnie Weber, Jim Shaw, Tony Oursler, Mike Kelley, and others) in a Halloweeney installation complete with flashing lights, ghouls hiding in the walls, and campy details that provide a nuanced context within which to celebrate art center’s alumni. Dynamic sound pieces such as Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork's installation in the Hammer's foyer must be walked through to fully feel the nuances of her audio manipulation. As the public awaits engagement with this multi-facetted exhibition, it’s unclear if in-person viewing will manifest. In the meantime, the Hammer has promised more access points for the public, including accompanying programming and more videos from the exhibition that will migrate online. Yet, no clear schedule has been set for either.