Made in LA at the Hammer

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The Hammer's third group exhibition Made in LA, is held every two years and because it is organized by guest curators it reflects their own varied temperament and taste. This year, the Hammer's own curator, Aram Moshayedi, was joined by curator Hamza Walker of Chicago's Renaissance Society. Their choices demonstrate the possibility of great diversity without diluting overall impact. The very title of the show, a, the, though, only was conceived by poet Aram Saroyan and exists as a piece that floats throughout the published material on the show. Todd Gray, whom I did not see, is a ghostly presence. His piece is the daily wearing of the clothes of his late friend Ray Manzarek of The Doors.

Of concrete and historic interest is the curators attention to that least supported group of artists, those who have sustained long careers but who no longer receive the attention they deserve. To that end, there are two mini-surveys within the larger show.

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Kenzi Shiokava installation
Photo by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

Kenzi Shiokava's installation is a high point and a catalogue essay by Oscar Tuazon notes the intriguing fact that Shiokava worked for years for Marlon Brando, tending the jungly gardens of his Mulholland estate. Shiokava's organically shaped sculptures do appear grown rather than constructed. The artist, born in Brazil in 1938 but living in LA since 1964 with a BFA from Chouinard and an MFA from Otis, has long worked at Watts Towers Art Center. In this show, his dynamic gathering of dozens of carved wooden totems, some with strands of beads hanging down like hair, is a stand-out.

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Huguette Caland. "Enlève ton doigt," 1971
Oil on canvas, 15 × 30 in. (38.1 × 76.2 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Janine Rubeiz, Beirut

The other survey is dedicated to eccentric Lebanese-born Hugette Calande, born in 1931, an early favorite of Pierre Cardin and a fixture of the Venice art scene from 1987 to 2013. Pop-inspired paintings made as early as 1971, abstract paintings in fruity colors, pen and ink drawings of naked women with abundant pubic hair, clay sculptures, even painted dresses, are often suggestive and sensual.

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Rafa Esparza, "tierra," 2016
Adobe bricks, found objects
Courtesy of the artist
Photo by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

At the other end of the age spectrum is Rafa Esparza, born in LA in 1981. He has gained a lot of attention for building performance spaces from adobe bricks, most recently at LACE. Here he has covered the floor of an upper gallery with adobe bricks while a distressed spiky cactus sprouts from a decomposing overstuffed armchair. A black mailbox sits on the floor, address numbers arranged within. The installation evokes an exhausted domesticity, as though unseen dwellers are losing the struggle to overcome life's challenges.

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Daniel R. Small, "Excavation II," 2016
Courtesy of the artist
Photo by Brian Forrest

Daniel Small, born in 1984, has a bio that asserts that he worked with the FBI to curate art forgeries into an exhibition in the Bronx. This installation is all about the fact and fantasy of ancient Egypt with vitrines of artifacts originally produced for De Mille's The Ten Commandments. After the movie was released in 1923, the original set was buried where the film was shot in the dunes of Guadalupe-Nipomo near Santa Barbara but contemporary archeologists have dug up parts of sphinxes and exhibit them as the Lost City. Small's selection at the Hammer brings our attention to this quintessentially Hollywood story but it is amplified by the addition of enormous murals of dramatic Egyptian scenes originally painted as casino decor for the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Small treats these vernacular representations of Egypt as the archeology of the present, a layer upon layer complication of reading history and its ever-changing representation.

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Rebecca Morris. "Untitled (#16-15)," 2015
Oil and spray paint on canvas, 75 × 75 in. (190.5 × 190.5 cm)
Courtesy of the artist; Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago; and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
Photo by Lee Tyler Thompson

There are 26 artists in this show, too many to discuss in this context but here are a few more high points: Rebecca Morris' big puzzles of tinted, patterned fabrics, Kelly Akashi's molded body parts suspended in a corner of the Atrium, Silke Otto-Knapp's moody grisaille skyscape in the lobby, Shahryar Nashat's installation of geometric sculpture and video in a haze of pink light. Sterling Ruby is by many leagues the best known artist in the show but we rarely get to see his consistently intriguing work in LA One gallery includes a group metal welding tables, giant found objects that Ruby has re-purposed and altered, melding their original function with his own ideas.

While at the museum, stop by one of the iPads to vote on which of these artists should receive the $25,000 Public Recognition Award. The show is on view through August 28 and an extensive program of performances, talks and events can be found at