Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Made in LA 2016 Biennial "a, the, though, only" at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California

In the 1960's, after living in Berkeley, California, Richard Diebenkorn moved away from figurative painting to abstraction. Diebenkorn began painting his Ocean Park series. In his Ocean Park series, Diebenkorn did not see these works as landscape paintings despite the name referring to a part of Santa Monica, near the beach. Thus the relationship between the geographic name and the canvas became itself an abstraction.

After looking at the 2016 Made in LA biennial "a, the, though, only," currently at the Hammer Museum on view through August 28, 2016, Los Angeles as a place becomes an abstraction of concepts and practices that were complimentary and contradictory. What is Los Angeles? How does Los Angeles relate to it's artistic production? How do artists relate to Los Angeles as a place? These are questions that the curators Aram Moshayedi and Hamza Walker explore in the 2016 iteration of the Made in L.A. Biennial. Moshayedi and Walker chose 26 artists whose work explore facets of LA where art and place meet. The curators paint a picture of Los Angeles as a place where art is created, not art that is necessarily about Los Angeles.

The curators take the concept of multimedia to another level. This years biennial incorporates music, sound, internet, music composition, installation, video, film, poetry, as well as painting, and sculpture. The curious addition is the title itself. The title "a, the, though, only" is a poem by Aram Saroyan and considered a work of and in itself. By using language as a way of both defining the parameters and approaches to the work. Saroyan's poem is a perfect analogy to the curatorial approach of this year's biennial. Los Angeles is a site where congruent, contradictory and parallel practices converge to present the viewer with some compelling and extraordinary works.

Here are some highlights of the exhibition

Silke Otto Knapp's painting greets the visitor with beauty and calm. Based on a Georgia O'Keefe large scale landscape painting from the 1960's, Otto Knapp creates a large scale landscape of islands, within a bay. The viewer is looking over the bay. It is dreamscape that immediately grabs hold of the viewer in beauty. Sublime in it's approach to the landscape. Otto Knapp's painting is a masterpiece that greets every visitor coming into the lobby.

Kenneth Tam's video work is one of the best in the exhibition. Tam's video involves social experiments with men, who are complete strangers, engaging in bonding exercises and activities. The video is quite compelling. The viewer is a witness, and in the end really has empathy and feeling for the performers in this work.

Laida Lertxundi is also a video artist. Lertxundi's videos explores the Los Angeles landscape in both the non-narrative and structural approach to portraying the landscape, while incorporating the body and subjectivity to a dialogue and exploration of Los Angeles as both subject and image.

Daniel R. Small's installation combines Hollywood, history according to Hollywood, and incorporation of entertainment in the interpretation of historical eras, and archeology of the future that maybe a part of a Hollywood creation. In 1923, Cecile B. Demille made the 10 Commandments, a movie set in ancient Egypt, in Guadalupe, California, which is about an hour north of Santa Barbara. At the end of the shoot, the studio demolished the set leaving all of the ruins in place. Demille is said to have stated that he hopes that no thinks that this is a lost Egyptian civilization in the middle of Southern California. Small then went to site of the movie set and did some archeology. The results of the archeology are on display in the gallery of the biennial. Also set in the gallery are paintings, which were rejected by both the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas, Navada and the Natural History Museum also in Las Vegas, that also portray fictional Ancient Egyptian scenes. Small plays on the boundary between fiction and history, both as constructed by Hollywood, and thus Los Angeles as creator and blurrer of history. Brilliant.     

Rafa Esparza explores the history of Los Angeles through material and installation. In the upstairs patio area, Esparza covers the floor with adobe bricks, a deep connection with the early Spanish and Mexican settlers who founded Los Angeles. Esparza then places objects, including a television set, a chair with a cacti growing through the seat, that were once buried in Elysian Park and places on top of the adobe title. Like history uncovered, Esparza contemplates the pain and struggles of those Latinos who once resided in Chavez Ravine, now the home of Dodger Stadium. This was one of the best works in the show. 

Lauren Davis Fisher sculptural installation in the lobby acts a dichotomy to Silke Otto Knapp's painting in the stairwell. Fisher's work changes every day as the artist moves each piece and thus engaging in a topographical stage, which is in relationship to theatre. Fisher's installation is never settled and thus forces the visitor to see the show more than once. 

Kelly Akashi's outdoor installation is meditation of the body, the feminine, and absence. Upon the corner of the quad, on the upper floor, Akashi's sculpture hangs above with the middle piece is based on a rotten onion. However, figure is vaginal in shape and floats above the courtyard. The hands also levitate above like holding the middle piece in place. There is no body on either side, so the absence and lack of body supports that of the vaginal figure. 

Gala Porras Kim's work for the biennial explores the notion of the uncategorical. In a collaboration between Porras Kim and The Fowler Museum, Porras Kim takes museum objects where the museum cannot categorize the piece; no indication of provenance, date, or site of origin. Porras Kim examines and reorients each piece to create a new context for each object. The artist thus uses the museum as a medium for a new arrangement for the viewer to explore. 

Kenzi Shiokava is a sculptor whose family was originally from Japan, raised in Brazil, and has resided in Los Angeles since 1964. Shiokava's work is totemic in form and nature. He fuses both his ethnic Japanese with the Brazilian culture he was raised under. The figures are mysterious when viewing the installation in the biennial. Each figure is both animal and plant. They embody something both primal and at the same time the work definitely fits into the dialogue that was similar to that of Bruce Conner, George Herms, Wallace Berman as well as Betye Saar; assemblage art that addresses similar issues of both the social condition of man and culture. This is one of best.  

Other artists that deserve a good look at are Guthrie Lonegan, Arthur Jafa, Hugette Caland, Ruby Sterling, Martine Syms, Wada Leo Smith, and Shahryar Nashat.

The artist of Made in LA 2016 Biennial have no particular commonality. Each installation and presentation is an exhibition in and of itself. The curators have done this purposefully to show a decentralization of Los Angeles. The title "a, the, though, only" is an abstraction, and thus Los Angeles is in itself an abstraction. The practices of each artist are a part of Los Angeles,and yet separated by the land and enormity of its geography.

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 443-7000

On view until August 28, 2016

Otto Silke Knapp

Lauren Fisher Davis

Kelly Akashi

Dena Yago

Shahryar Nashat

Hugette Caland

Arthur Jafa

Kenzi Shiokava

Gala Porras Kim

Wada Leo Smith

Daniel R. Small

Ruby Sterling

Rebecca Morris

Rafa Esparza

Kenneth Tam

Laida Lertxundi

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