The Getty Shows Off Its Monsters

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Like a monster out of a low-budget Japanese horror movie, it's huge and more than a bit scary. Its translucent tentacles are a hundred feet long, and it feels as if they're still growing, ready to ensnare anyone within reach. The creature doesn't even have an easily identifiable main body. Instead, there are a few gigantic kidney-shaped blobs: translucent, flimsy, icky - like the tentacles that grow out of them. I saw it last night with my very own eyes, and I swear I was stone cold sober.

And did I mention that the monster was breathing and sighing with the heavy primordial growl of angry gods displeased with our foolishness?

This is not exactly the kind of scene one expects to encounter at the elegant rotunda of the Getty Museum, but after all, the invitation for the opening of the new exhibition did bear the name of LA artist Tim Hawkinson, so I was somewhat prepared. The mind of this artist works like no one else, populating the world with an amazing variety of strange, haunting images. Two years ago, a retrospective of his work could be seen at the Whitney Museum and then here at LACMA. His hands, his face, his naked body parts, are used by the artist repeatedly and mercilessly in photographic collages, drawings, and sculptures. Here at the Getty, he shows four new works commissioned by the museum for this exhibition which opens for the public today. And by the way it opens, ironically, a day after the much-admired exhibition Icons from Sinai officially closed. So, farewell to gods, hello to monsters.

The most imposing of the new works is the very large photo collage with the image of an octopus whose long tentacles are covered with hundreds of hungry-looking suckers. Each one turns out to be a cutout of a photograph of pursed lips belonging to the artist himself. The multitude of these moist pink orifices aimed at you makes for a very unsettling experience, to say the least. As with most of the artworks by Tim Hawkinson, it's off-putting and seductive all at once.

While it's not easy to find in the bowels of the museum the small gallery displaying these new works, it's impossible to miss the colossal Überorgan suspended from the ceiling of the rotunda at the museum entrance. I saw it first a couple weeks ago - halfway through its installation - and I was underwhelmed. But last night, fully assembled and with air blown through all these tentacles and cardboard tubes covered in tin foil, the creature was ready for its prime-time appearance. Initially, I thought of it as the bloated intestines of a deep-sea monster, but then I heard the trumpeting of old hymns and pop classics produced by the self-playing organ attached to it, and I was entranced by its guttural, otherworldly sound. For me it was a quintessential Tim Hawkinson moment of magical transformation. And for the Getty, which has been battling bad publicity for quite some time, this audacious exhibition demonstrates vision and courage of conviction that bodes well for its future.

Zoopsia: New Works by Tim Hawkinson
March 6 – September 9 at the Getty Center

Does Tim Hawkinson Have Multiple Personalities?
Art Talk, July 5, 2005

Banner image: Tim Hawkinson, Octopus, 2006; Photographic collage mounted on foam; 94 ½” x 140 x 2 ½”; Photo courtesy of the artist, © 2007 Tim Hawkinson