Inside The Hammer Museum's Biennial Exhibition

Courtesy of Hammer Museum
Adam Linder. Vexed Vista, 2015. Performance at Les Subsistances, Lyon, France, January 2015. Stage detail. Photograph by Shahryar Nashat.

The show, which opens this weekend, features unique works from 26 L.A.-based artists.

The Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. biennial is opening this weekend with a complex, diverse, heady show. Curated by Renaissance Society associate curator Hamza Walker and Hammer curator Aram Moshayedi, the exhibition features 26 L.A. artists, and has several unique links to the industry.

For starters, one of the first things viewers see when they walk into the show is a room filled with Arthur Jafa’s visual diaries: three-ring binders filled with collaged images cut from books and magazines. Jafa is a film theorist focusing on the potentiality of black cinema as well as cinematographer — he worked on Daughters of the Dust (1991), Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993), and Spike Lee’s Crooklyn (1994) — and the books show a keen ability to create and juxtapose provocative imagery.

Margaret Honda. Cases and reels for Color Correction, 2015.

Photograph by Brian Forrest.Conversely, Margaret Honda approaches film from a physical standpoint. “Color Correction” (2015) and “Spectrum Reverse Spectrum” (2014) are presented on plinths in their film canisters, and will be screened intermittently during the exhibition. For “Spectrum Reverse Spectrum,” Honda took 70mm colored timing tape used for color correction, and cut it into a “palindrome” that covers the entire color spectrum. “Color Correction” also uses timing tape, but in this case, from a single Hollywood film — Honda did not know which film. It’s basically a 101-minute feature length film, the color correction divorced from the negatives.

The third direct link to cinema in the show comes in the form of Daniel R. Small’s “Excavation II.” The story goes that Cecil B. DeMille created a massive set in the desert of Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes in Northern Santa Barbara California for his 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments. Not wanting to transport the set (or allow it to remain in the case that other filmmakers might salvage it for their films), DeMille ordered it destroyed and left in the desert. Small has excavated some pieces of the set as an archeologist would true Ancient Egyptian artifacts.

And Martine Syms’s She Mad, the first in an episodic TV series she’s producing, takes the storyline from a Thomas Edison-produced silent film from 1907 called Laughing Gas, in which black actress Bertha Regustus is given nitrous oxide and sent out on the street, infecting those she meets with her mirth. Syms loosely recreates this film with herself in the title role.

There are several other works that have tangential relationships to the industry, notably Guthrie Lonergan’s four musical pieces in collaboration with the reality TV music composers at Barefoot Music. Played in various corners of the museum, the music instills the show with some humorous, and melodramatic, sounds. And in the exhibition catalog, L.A. art writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer offers up a script for a TV show called The Unprofessionals, which takes as its dialogue various interviews with artists. 

Eckhaus Latta. SS16 Ad Campaign, 2015. Directed by Alexa Karolinski.

Photo by Caleb Heller.Overall, the exhibition, subtitled a, the, though, only (a poem by minimalist poet Aram Saroyan), is neatly curated. Many of the artists get entire galleries, which gives it the feel of seeing several exhibitions in concurrence, allowing for a more attentive experience. Highlights include 78-year-old Kenzi Shiokava’s natural assemblages he’s put together from discarded items found mostly in Compton since the 1960s, Sterling Ruby’s black desks, and a retrospective of cutting-edge fashion label Eckhaus Latta’s designs over the years.

The Hammer has a long history of industry ties. Their board of overseers includes The Hammer’s board of overseers includes UTA’s Peter Benedek and Jeremy Zimmer, Susan Bay Nimoy, David Hoberman, Bob Gersh, Endeavor’s Greg Hodes, music exec John Rubeli, and Joni Sighvatsson, and Viveca Paulin-Ferrell. Paulin-Ferrell and her husband Will Ferrell are listed as donors supporting the biennial.