Oh Hammer Museum, I don’t expect your gallery guards to be able to discuss your art like a curator would, but I do expect them to be able to tell me why I can’t take a picture in certain galleries. When asked why I could not take a photo of Out of the Box, I was told, “oh well, this is a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But isn’t this part of your permanent collection? “Uh no, um it isn’t.” Actually it IS gallery guard, the works in Out of the Box were recently acquired jointly with LACMA. When asked why I couldn’t take pictures in Selections From the Hammer Contemporary Collection: “Oh well it’s a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But the reason why I can’t take photos in here is because some of the works are promised gifts not yet officially part of the collection. Maybe the Hammer should spend some time educating their gallery guards.
Now let’s discuss the summer shows at the Hammer. There is an installation by Greg Lynn, Out of the Box (editions of artists’ prints), a selection from the Armand Hammer Collection, and a selection from the Hammer Contemporary Collection. So that’s three shows/installations of permanent collection works, but I was only allowed to take photos in the Armand Hammer Collection installation. (I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures of the Greg Lynn, it’s out in a public courtyard after all.)
Let’s begin with Greg Lynn’s lovely fountain. LACMA on Fire blog had a fun post about the kitchy work, oh and the blogger doesn’t have a secret identity anymore. (That blog somehow seemed more fun when it was a secret and when it wasn’t hosted on artinfo.) The spurting fountain is made from casts of children’s toys and is an apt summer installation. The work is looking a little dirty though and could use some cleaning, or the Hammer could just dump some bleach into it.
Next up is the installation of works from the Armand Hammer Collection. Yeah, he’s that guy that founded this museum. (That’s right LA, Broad isn’t the first collector to found his museum based on his private collection, oh wait, there’s also the Norton Simon, the Huntington, oh and the Getty, well hmmm.) His portrait bust is right there in the room, just like the creepy J. Paul Getty bust in the Brentwood center. I could swear I’ve seen this room installed this exact way before; do the curators reinstall it the same way every time? So much for enlivening the permanent collection…
The gallery is sliced into three sections. The first section has a row of Van Goghs and some other big name impressionists, and some Rembrandts. Interesting to note that there is no mention of Rembrandt in Southern California, an initiative of several Southern California museums to promote Rembrandts in their collections. Way to be a team player Hammer Museum. And of course the striking Singer Sargent portrait of Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881) is hung prominently in the first room, as the first work you see. Dr. Pozzi was a pretty sexy guy, and a gynecologist! I learned this fun little fact from the wall label, so yes there is some informative text in this installation.
The next room features a display of works from the museum’s Daumier collection: some great sketches and a slew of bronze caricature busts of famous Parisians. This room is a little dark, and I’m unsure why they displayed the busts in this overly theatrical fashion.
The last room has some smaller impressionist works flung together and hung closely on one wall. The other works are given a lot of space. All the big name works from the Armand Hammer Collection (the ones Ann Philbin decided to keep, not the lesser works the Hammer Foundation took back) are here. A Titian portrait of a man dressed as a soldier looks in need of cleaning, or maybe it’s just significantly darker than a similar work that hangs in the Getty.
Two Gustave Moreau’s hang in the last room next to each other: Salome Dancing Before Herod (1876) and King David (1878). These works are absolutely amazing, and you can get up very close to them (the gallery guard didn’t yell at me when I did) to see all the tiny application of bright white paint that Moreau used to achieve his sparkling lighting effect.
Now for the contemporary stuff. This installation is composed of acquired works (bought with that Da Vinci sketchbook deacquisition money perhaps) and promised gifts. The intro wall text thanks the Hammer’s “Board of Overseers for annual contributions to the Hammer Contemporary Collection acquisition fund and to several dedicated donors.” This is the third installation of works from the Contemporary Collection; was the second one Second Nature? No it wasn’t. The two earlier shows were this and this.
A lot of the works in the show come from artists who have been shown at the Hammer, whether in monographic shows, in the Hammer Projects series, or in Hammer Invitationals. No photos from this installation unfortunately, which means you have to go see it for yourself. I was really impressed by how contemporary most of the works are; many of them made in the last five years, and acquired by the museum soon after they were created. The Hammer is doing an impressive job at executing its five-year-old initiative to seriously collect contemporary works. Gold star for you Ann Philbin!
The last of the summer shows (that I’m going to discuss) is Out of the Box: Edition Jacob Samuel, 1988-2010. The collection of prints from the Santa Monica-based EJS studio was jointly acquired by the Hammer and LACMA. I wonder how this joint ownership works. (LACMA jointly acquired an El Anatsui work with another UCLA museum, the Fowler, two years ago.) The list of artists represented in this exhibition is a real who’s-who of the contemporary world; check out the roster below (click to enlarge).
Personally I found the majority of the prints really boring. A series of prints of the number two was less then inspiring. There were few exceptions, but this whole project of prints seemed very elitist and overly self-congratulating. The exhibition design was effective but obvious; to clearly separate the projects of each artist a funny paint job had been devised. Each artist project was demarcated by a band of tan paint that segregated each project from the others. The earthtone paintjob was only about two feet high, and was immediately recognizable as an organizational strategy.
Admittedly I may have been overly critical of the Hammer and its summer shows, but when everyone that works there is so damn smug about themselves I expect the best. Maybe it’s just a slow summer. I’m going to admit that prints are hard to make exciting, and to be fair a lot of the work in the Contemporary Collection installation is really fantastic and warrants a long visit. See, I can be mildly subjective.
Just to make sure you don’t miss any of this great and mediocre stuff here is a rundown of when these shows close:
Greg Lynn: September 26
Armand Hammer Collection: ?
Hammer Contemporary Collection: January 30 (you’ve got a while)
Out of the Box: August 29 (opps you’ve missed it)