Recent Works by David Hammons at LACMA

August 25, 2011

Recently we had the opportunity to add two recent works by David Hammons to our contemporary installation on the 2nd floor of BCAM, on view through August 28. Earlier this year, two early pieces by the seminal artist were showcased in the exhibition Human NatureInjustice Case (1970) and a small watercolor from 1968. Both pieces were made in Los Angeles at a time when Hammons was questioning the meaning of the American flag and views of that flag appear in both pieces.

David Hammons, Injustice Case, 1970, print, body print (margarine and powdered pigments), and American flag, Sheet: 63 x 40 1/2 in., Museum Acquisition Fund (M.71.7), Prints and Drawings Department

David Hammons, Injustice Case, 1970, print, body print (margarine and powdered pigments), and American flag, Sheet: 63 x 40 1/2 in., Museum Acquisition Fund (M.71.7), Prints and Drawings Department

In the same way that a used flag functioned as a found object in Injustice Case, Hammons has consistently sought to make use of found or “poor” materials in his artworks in his days living in Los Angeles after attending Otis Art Institute in the 1960s. Many of Hammons’ artworks of the late 1960s and early 1970s are also created with the easily available means of the body as a paintbrush and grease as paint. Injustice Case is perhaps the most well known of these “body prints.” The image of the contorted and bound figure at the center of the picture appears not to be afforded the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all symbolized by the flag that frames the picture. As in much contemporary art created in this time period, this piece specifically relates to a specific event: the trial of Bobby Seale, a co-founder of the Black Panthers who was on trial in the wake of the 1968 Democratic convention, charged with conspiracy.

David Hammons, Untitled, 2010, courtesy of the artist and L & M Arts, NY

David Hammons, Untitled, 2010, courtesy of the artist and L & M Arts, NY

Hammons has also made sculptures out of snowballs, elephant dung, hair collected from barber shops, grease from chicken bones, and even light as a material. His most recent exhibition—last spring at L&M Gallery in New York—featured a series of new works in a painterly mode that he has been working with for the last few years, concealed by found material. Using tarpaulin, cloth rags, and even garbage bags, the artist has partially covered large expressionistic paintings on canvas. In this untitled painting, a circular patch is cut through the plastic, and through that hole a glimpse is to be had of sumptuous, bold primary color brushtrokes that look like cumulus clouds or a big 1970s de Kooning canvas. (Though not as colorful as his later work, de Kooning’s abstract expressionist brushwork and that of his friend Franz Kline can be seen in works in the modern galleries).

Obscuring his work with pieces that are sometimes filled with torn or otherwise crudely devised holes, Hammons makes for a certain camouflage, as if the painting needs to be obscured in order to work its magic and thusly function as an object of beauty, albeit a conceptual one, that is as interested in ideas of beauty as it is in function and stealth utility.

A brick is also used to hold the painting “in place” so that it tilts on a diagonal and the upper right corner reaches higher than the left as the piece is propped up against the wall, rather than “hung” on the wall. That placement—testing the museum’s usual structure of vertically placed paintings—also determines the way in which the found piece drapes and affords the painting another layer of structure and meaning. It is tempting to peel back the draping to get a full view of the colorful canvas surrounded by gray materials. But the whole is grater than the sum of its parts; and to take it in from the given vantage point, stymied in your quest to see Hammons in some traditional painterly light, is the best picture.

David Hammons, Untitled (Basketball Drawing), 2006-2007, Courtesy L & M Arts, NY, L.2011.10.2a-c

David Hammons, Untitled (Basketball Drawing), 2006-2007, Courtesy L & M Arts, NY

Perhaps even more indebted to the imprint process of his earlier body prints, Untitled (Basketball Drawing) is a classic example of an ongoing series of works on paper. In each instance, the drawing is made by repeatedly impressing a basketball against the surface of the paper. Hammons adeptly handles the ball and the graphite, which leaves the final mark. Parts of the surface are dark and others barely there, as if he wields the chance material with the precision of a finely sharpened pencil.

Hammons has often invoked sport in his artworks—most often boxing and basketball. One work, Three Mikes, contains references to Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan. A whole series of sculptures, Higher Goals, reference basketball hoops extended far beyond their usual regulation height. For this work—one of the largest of his many basketball drawings—the artist has made a diptych of the images on paper. Thousands of basketball imprints create a cloud of seemingly organic forms. Upon closer inspection the lines of the basketball can be made out and here and there the logo of the National Basketball Association. The sport here has been reduced to the repetitive gesture of passing the ball against a wall over and over again. The monotony suggested has parallels with the process of making art day after day but also the rich possibility of practice potentially leading to perfection.

Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head, Contemporary Art


August 24, 2011

While leaving work last week, I stumbled upon the Messiah himself enjoying the sunset on LACMA’s campus.  Strategically placed (he seemed to possess a keen self-awareness) within the illuminated street lights of Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation, Jesus stood waiting, as if informed by some divine foresight that a passing photographer would soon ask, “Hey Jesus, can I take your picture?”

After snapping a shot with my camera phone [insert corporate sponsorship here], the Holy One asked to see the photo and exclaimed simply, “Sweet.”  Clearly he was impressed.

Jesus in front of Urban Light

Jesus with Urban Light

Once my feelings of “OMG, I just took a pic w/ Jesus, LOLZ ROTFL” subsided, I realized that the composition of the photo bore an uncanny resemblance to John Baldessari’s iconic work, Wrong, lauded for its “improper” positioning of a man directly beneath a towering palm tree.

John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966-1968, Painting, photoemulsion with acrylic on canvas, 59 x 45 in. Contemporary Art Council (M.71.40)

John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966-1968, Painting, photoemulsion with acrylic on canvas, 59 x 45 in. Contemporary Art Council (M.71.40)

Justin Edwards


Art Here and Now: New Acquisitions by Zoe Crosher and Mark Flores

July 7, 2011

Artists Mel Edwards, Chris Burden, Mary Corse, Tim Hawkinson, Pae White, Mark Bradford, and Elliott Hundley have more in common than you might think. Once upon a time, as emerging artists, they were all recognized by LACMA as Art Here and Now (AHAN) artists (or by the Young Talent Award program that preceded AHAN). Funded through the Modern and Contemporary Art Council (MCAC) at LACMA, this program has supported local emerging artists since 1963. At first in the form of the New or Young Talent Award, a purchase award based on the cost of a year’s rent for a studio in Venice, it was renamed Art Here and Now in 1986. (You can see a full list of past AHAN artists in this previous Unframed post.)

Spring 2011 marked the inauguration of Art Here and Now: Studio Forum. The program retains its studio visit format: AHAN members accompany the Modern and Contemporary Art curators to the studios of a handful of selected emerging artists, resulting in a commitment to acquire work by one or more of them. Now, through the generosity of the AHAN: Studio Forum members, an increase in acquisition funds allows the curators to acquire more work for the permanent collection. This past spring the AHAN: Studio Forum members and the curators visited nine artists’ studios over two intensive days. The group reconvened for a lively and focused discussion about the artists, their practices, and the collection in order to pinpoint the most critical directions for LACMA’s acquisitions at this particular moment.

We are thrilled to announce the 2011 AHAN artists: Zoe Crosher and Mark Flores.

Zoe Crosher, Tilt of her Head, Over Analog Time (detail), 2011, set of 9 works in a unique grouping from the Michelle duBois series, purchased with funds provided by AHAN: Studio Forum, 2011 Art Here and Now Purchase

Born in Santa Rosa, CA in 1975, Zoe Crosher lives and works in Los Angeles. She completed her MFA at CalArts in the Photography and Integrated Media Programs in 2001, and has exhibited at LAXART and Margo Leavin Gallery (2010) and Las Cienegas Projects (2011), and was included in the 2010 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. Playing with fictional documentary, the fantasy of expectation and the false promise of travel, an obsession with transience, and the reconsidered archive, her work has been shown internationally in Vancouver, Rotterdam, and New York City as well as in Los Angeles.

Crosher’s The Reconsidered Archive of Michelle duBois clusters tourist, performative, and posed images shot in post-WWII Pacific Rim cities from the late 1960s to the 1990s by Michelle duBois, a woman who photographed herself over three decades, later reconfigured by Crosher. As critic Andrew Bernadini playfully writes, “Zoe Crosher has got lost in the archive,” which consists of hundreds of expressive, iconic “Cindy Shermanesque” originals. For LACMA, Crosher has created a unique grouping of nine Michelle duBois images. The title, Tilt of her Head, over Analog Time (from the Disbanding of Michelle duBois), describes the repeated pose in the images, and depicts duBois roughly from her twenties through her fifties.

Mark Flores, See This Through (4), 2010, Purchased with funds provided by AHAN: Studio Forum, 2011 Art Here and Now Purchase

Mark Flores, born in Ventura in 1970, studied at the California Institute for the Arts where he received his Masters of Fine Art in 2002. His work has been included in various group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Orange County Museum of Art among other venues. See This Through is based on images from digital photographs taken by the artist on various lengthy walks across Sunset Boulevard, stretching from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. On these journeys, the artist photographed natural phenomena as well as locations linked to media culture (e.g. the Beverly Hills bathroom where pop singer George Michael was arrested for a “lewd act”) and memorials (e.g. the spot where photographer Helmut Newton died). The multiple panels that comprise See This Through literally mobilize the viewing experience horizontally and vertically, recreating the experience of moving through space and zooming in on objects and incidents.

These panels were first developed as part of a larger body of work, comprised of ninety-nine paintings, one drawing, and a slide show of digital photographic source images. All four sets of See This Through were exhibited as one lobby installation at the Hammer Museum as part of the Hammer Projects in the spring of 2011. Flores’ talents as a painter are displayed through various formal techniques, among them photorealist, washy abstract extrapolations of imagery, as well as a number that the artist refers to as “halftone paintings.” In the latter, Flores layers and dries colors from the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key black) spectrum to create the illusion of the half-tone printing process. 

Christine Y. Kim, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art

Changing Perspective on Photography

April 13, 2011

If you wander through the current exhibition Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the Collection,  you will find photography, video, and installation work in amongst the usual suspects—painting, drawing and sculpture.

Hannah Wilke, S.O.S. Starification Object Series (guns), 1974 Purchased with funds provided by the Judith Rothschild Foundation, the Modern and Contemporary Art Council, and the Ralph M. Parsons Discretionary Fund

That wasn’t the case so long ago, when photography, as a practice or when displayed, was considered in terms that separated it from the rest of the contemporary dialogue. Then Cindy Sherman and a few others happened.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self-Portrait, 1980, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Now we have photo imagery everywhere and, I hope, a greater appreciation for the medium—though one could make a case for oversaturation—and its challenges. In fact, a lot of artists using photography (see Baldessari) are creating work that retells photo history or plays off those very elements that initially entranced, namely the depiction of the real.

Yinka Shonibare, Diary of a Victorian Dandy: 21.00 Hours, from the Diary of a Victorian Dandy Series, 1998 Purchased with funds provided by the Modern and Contemporary Art Acquisition Fund and the Ralph M. Parsons Fund

No longer are we able to look at photographic imagery and have an expectation of truth, and there is an understanding that a photographer “makes” his/her images rather than “takes.”

Nikki Lee, The Hispanic Project (25), 1998 Ralph M. Parsons Fund

With photography incorporated into the larger picture of modern art history, a different story of influences, themes, and concepts emerges.

Eve Schillo

Video: Human Nature, contemporary art from the collection

April 11, 2011

On view through July 4th, 2011, our exhibition Human Nature features selections from the permanent collection of contemporary art. In the short video below, Franklin Sirmans talks about various themes of the show, including the use of language, the development of conceptualism, and a growing internationalism in contemporary art. He touches on neon work by Bruce Nauman and Glenn Ligon, body art from the late 1960s and 70s, and new directions in painting, including De Style, by one of my favorites, Kerry James Marshall.

There’s also some great footage of Haegue Yang’s Doubles and Couples, a large scale mixed media installation that uses components of domestic appliances, like a stove and a washing machine, and takes up most of the center of one of the largest galleries.

Amy Heibel


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