Meg Cranston, "California", Hammer lobby installation, 2011
What do we want from a biennial exhibition or any large survey show? We want to be blown away! We want to see something that changes our world view. Whether we see the sixty artists in “Made in LA” or the two hundred artists now on view at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, we go with excitement and anticipation. I’m always hoping to discover new talent, even genius. I want to be surprised by artists I know or find reaffirmation of their breadth and contribution; I expect to be challenged and rewarded visually and intellectually. I will come away with a shortlist of those works that personally move me.
LAXART, building exterior, commissioned mural by Crew 777
“Made in LA”, on view until September 2, is organized by the Hammer Museum in collaboration with the dynamic, nonprofit space, LAXART. The show is spread across town in three venues, the Hammer in Westwood, LAXART in Culver City and Barnsdall Park Municipal Gallery in Los Feliz. Five curators identified the emerging and under-recognized artists as exemplary of the energy, innovation and creativity boiling in the vast Los Angeles melting pot. Hailing from diverse cities, backgrounds and nationalities, no single trend or viewpoint defines the exhibition. Yet opaque meaning or alternatively, multiple interpretations, illusion or disillusion, subversion, distorted truth and disrupted continuity are common threads. Painting, sculpture, drawing, photography and video reside together, engaging materials and methods that may be surprising.
My own shortlist is divided among the artists that predominately explore offshoots of traditional painting and sculpture, and those artists whose practice is more reliant on other visual forms. In the first group are artists such as Analia Saban, Mimi Lauter and Jill Spector. In the second group are Ryan Sluggett, Liz Glynn, Morgan Fisher, Meg Cranston and The Propeller Group. Together they echo the broad concerns of the Biennial.
Analia Saban "Erosion (Room) #2", laser-sculpted acrylic on canvas, 38 x 58"
Born in Buenos Aires, Analia Saban has been rigorously questioning the nature of what constitutes painting and the way in which it merges into sculptural territory. With a subtle palette, the form of the canvas is manipulated with bulges and tears and the paint texture becomes physical. The work is quirky, fresh and somehow elegant.
Mimi Lauter, "Swaddled Dawn", 2010, oil pastel, 70 x 110", Collection of the Hammer Museum
Originally from San Francisco, Mimi Lauter uses oil pastel for a rich, painterly sensibility. Most dramatic on a large-scale, the pieces hover between abstraction and representation with a reference to landscape and animals. Lauter maintains a purposeful ambiguity that denies narrative translation. A typical piece can measures over 9’ in length.
Jill Spector, "Chorus 1/3", 2010, mixed media, 50 x 24"
Jill Spector creates inventive, mixed media sculptures whose underlying form and structure support an initial visual chaos. The work looks tenuous and is unpredictable but has a beguiling and unique character. She uses materials such as plaster, wood, steel and paper mache. Color photocopies are incorporated into the sculptures and are also found in her two-dimensional wall-mounted collages.
Ryan Sluggett, "Family Limo", 2011, Acrylic, fabric dye, tempera, oil on colored fabric, 93 x 145"
Paintings and animation by Ryan Sluggett are a lively addition to the presentation at the Hammer. As further evidence of the hybrid nature of current artwork, Sluggett’s work often begins as a drawing. As it progresses, it may become a painting or fuel animation for a video. The major piece on view is a high-keyed animation encased in a painting that functions like a sculpture. The narrative is elusive but the sense of intrigue holds the eye.
Meg Cranston, Hammer lobby installation, Bic lighters, 2011
The integration of art and architecture have been used to great effect by the Hammer in their lobby installations. The tradition continues with Meg Cranston’s two wall murals. Her welcoming piece, “California” (above) effectively sets the mood for the entire exhibition. The Bic lighters on the opposite wall reflect Cranston’s fascination with color theory and the process of archiving. Chosen from Pantone’s 2012 spring/summer forecast, the piece makes a humorous nod to fashion and the trend driven nature of the art world itself.
Morgan Fisher, Installation view, upper floor, Hammer Museum
Upstairs on the second floor, Morgan Fisher created a formal and optically intriguing painting on two perpendicular walls and the adjacent ceiling. Reminiscent of fresco painting whose form relies on the architecture, the piece can be seen in it’s entirety from only a single vantage point. However, walking from any direction, the color creates a frame for the surrounding views, making reference to the artist’s ongoing interest in film and filmmaking.
Liz Glynn, "III", 2010, reclaimed wooden forklift pallets, housing for performances, 16 x 27 x 27'
Liz Glynn has created a practice that involves multiple dimensions and concerns. She works alternatively on monumental site-specific pieces, object works like those on view at the Hammer and performance pieces with public engagement. The conceptual aspect of the work interfaces with a complex physicality, all of it informed by her research and travel, with a focus on history and politics and manifest with an economy of means. The piece titled “III” from 2010 illustrates these attributes. Comprised of reclaimed, wooden forklift palettes, Glynn created a majestic yet poignant pyramid, recalling both contemporary and ancient labor and commerce. It also functioned as a housing for a series of performances she arranged.
The Propeller Group, Installation view, "TVC Communism", 2011, commissioned for Singapore Biennele
The Propeller Group is a collective of three artists, Phunam Thuc Ha, Matt Lucero and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, that acts as a media production company. They are based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Los Angeles. Their tools are television, film, video and the internet, which they use to distributed art and non-art projects to mass audiences. The piece on view at Barnsdall, titled “TVC Communism”, is intended to “rebrand” the ideologies of communism by using the format of a capitalist television commercial. It feels like a friendly talk-show. The circular installation of monitors is immediately inviting. The format is so convincing and disarming, it subverts the provocative nature of the message. In a chilling way, it mimics the kind of manipulation to which we are frequently exposed.
LAXART, Billboard on La Cienega, commissioned for "Made in LA"
It is an understatement to say the Biennial is a complicated endeavor. Each artist, or collaborative, is worthy of unique consideration. The extensive catalog offers an opportunity to read detailed statements about each of the participants. Adding to the buzz is the Mohn Award, a $100,000 prize and publication of a book, that will be awarded to one artist from the exhibition. A jury of professional curators from around the country will select five finalists from the sixty artists. The winner will be chosen by viewers who sign up to vote on-line. Move over, American Idol. In addition, from July 13-15, a boardwalk Biennial, of it’s own ingenious character, will grace Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach. Information and the details surrounding the Biennial may be accessed on the impressive website www.madeinla2012.org.
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