Made in L.A. 2014 at the Hammer

The second edition of the Hammer Museum’s new biennial, Made in L.A. 2014, has brought a slew of emerging and under-recognized artists to the museum for a compelling exhibition. Rather than taking over three venues like its inaugural biennial, this year’s Made in L.A. has regulated itself to just the halls of the Hammer Museum itself, trimming back from 60 featured artists to a more concise and cohesive 35 LA-based artists from past and present. This biennial feels like collection of 35 different shows, rather than one continuous exhibition, with each artist in his or her own “area.” On view until September 17th, the exhibition offers a definitive look at emerging working artists, alternative collectives like Public Fiction and Los Angeles Museum of Art, and posthumous installations that shine a light on important artists of the past. The show includes painting, installation, video, sculpture, photography and performance, many works made specifically for the exhibition.

Public Fiction, Theatricality and Sets, 2014. Courtesy of Public Fiction.

Biennials generally show a collection of the world’s best, sometimes based on a thematic thread. Yet the tie that binds the artists in Made in L.A. is simply location – meaning that the biennial is not only taking place in L.A., but it is also in effect, about L.A. The pared down biennial was curated by Hammer’s chief curator Connie Butler, along with an unlikely partner, independent art critic Michael Ned Holte, who highly ridiculed the biennial’s first edition in 2012. Holte, who previously had no experience putting together a museum exhibition, was chosen by the Hammer’s director Ann Philbin, making enthusiasts wonder if her goal was to make him put his money where his mouth is. In turn, the pair has curated a powerful, yet noticeably different exhibition from 2012, first by cutting nearly half of the participating artists, but also notably including more female artists than males. Holte also left out all of the 60 artists who were featured in the 2012 biennial, reaffirming his critical stance from two-years ago. The resulting exhibition took over the whole of the Hammer Museum; the first time the museum has given its space to one show, and includes 11 newly commissioned works. The show will also offer $25,000 to the artist who wins the Public Recognition reward, which some critics have scoffed at as being tacky or evoking a reality show. But the curators hope this “people’s choice” ploy will encourage visitors to engage more closely with the works in the exhibition, while also giving prize money to a talented artist.

Los Angeles Museum of Art. LAMOA/SAMOA, 2013. Installation by Stephanie Taylor. Photograph courtesy Robert Wedemeyer.

This year’s edition is more loosely exhibited, shirking an overall theme, but instead celebrating the microclimates of artists living in the Los Angeles area, such as Korea Town, Inglewood, Venice, Boyle Heights and Laguna Beach. The biennial is meant to capture the individual spirits of these small communities that are all considered to be Los Angeles by outsiders, portraying the rich diversity not only culturally, but also with artistic communities and trends. Aside from individual artists, Made in L.A. also highlights the thriving artist collectives and alternative artist run spaces, showcasing powerful work from the James Kidd Studio, Amid Voluptuous Calm and Public Fiction. The inclusion of these groups acknowledge the importance of sub-cultures within the L.A. art world, and their importance in the rich diversity of the art being created.

Sarah Rara. The Pollinators, 2014 (still). Courtesy of the artist.

The multi-disciplinary work of artist Sara Rara at first appears to be about different things, whether they are images of books, breakfast, videos of bugs, or performances about reading, yet the underlying thread of each work is dependence; how one thing is needed for the other to work. For the biennial, Holte has chosen The Pollinators, a 65-minute video (with accompanying benches for viewing comfort) showing the cycle of insects, birds, and animals involved in the process of pollinating flowers. Because of each creature’s actions, edible plants are able to bear fruit, and to mature, providing food for the masses. Rara delicately shows how what seem to be the most minute actions of each creature, are interdependently connected and must operate together to feed the world, and allow humankind to thrive.

Wu Tsang. A day in the life of bliss, 2014. Courtesy of Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin; Clifton Benvenuto, New York; and Michael Benvenuto, Los Angeles.

Marcia Hafif. From the Inventory: Shade Paintings: Group 6: Scarlet Lake, Schevenengen Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Emerald Green, Ultramarine Blue, Dioxizine Purple, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Brian Forrest.

Process, materials and techniques are the central focus of Marcia Hafif’s series of monochromatic paintings, Shade Paintings. The works, which are presented in a rainbow of canvases, use the power of color to show the importance of the artist’s hand in the creation of a work of art. Each canvas not only differs chromatically, but also in apparent process, with each work showing Hafif’s process in drip and brushstroke, experienced as an environment in the artist’s section in the museum.

Channing Hansen. Polytope Soap, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Joshua White.

Channing Hansen’s “paintings” meshes his appreciation for craft with math and physics. The colorful, knit works are made from hand-dyed fibers of varying origin, like silk, mohair and alpaca, and are made not by hand but by a predetermined decision-making computer algorithm.

Gabriel Kuri. Two nudes two points, 2013. Marble slabs and crushed aluminum cans. Courtesy of Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York. 

Using repurposed and recycled materials, Gabriel Kuri makes sculptures, installations and collages that react to the places where he sources these materials, taking their original purpose out of context by reassigning them as art materials. Two nudes two points echoes Brancusi’s The Kiss, using two curved pieces of industrial marble waste as figures, with two crushed Coke cans as the figures, eyes and hands.

Tony Greene. Untitled (U), 1989. Courtesy of David Franz.

Aside from presenting some of Los Angeles’ most current artists, Made in L.A. also has its own homage – a show within the show honoring the late Tony Greene that allows visitors a chance to take a step back in time. Greene was active in the L.A. scene all throughout the 1980s, but sadly passed away from AIDs-related complications at age 35 in 1990. David Frantz, the curator at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in L.A, was enlisted to organize the miniature exhibition. Tony Greene: Amid Voluptuous Calm pairs the late artist’s paintings with works of his contemporaries, showing how artists of the 80s reacted against the AIDS epidemic’s affect on L.A.

Although featuring nearly half as many artists than the previous biennial, the second edition of Made in L.A. presents a thorough and well-rounded scope of underestimated Los Angeles artists from the past 30 years. The experiment of giving the biennial’s biggest critic of the past, Holte, the power of curation, the museum has not only created a interesting dialogue between press and curators, but also a successful and complete exhibition. We can only wonder who will criticize Holte’s newfound curatorial edge and possibly secure a guest curator position for 2016.