The Hammer feels like a giant collage right now. There are rooms where framed artworks form a tight grid while actual collages scale walls, enveloping the viewer. Pieces move from one to another in movements that overlap both seamlessly and with those seams out in the open. There’s a feeling of excitement and curiosity as a result.
This is Made In L.A. 2014, a much more sophisticated and well executed local biennial compared to the 2012 mammoth of a show. Everything about the 2014 incarnation feels like an educated effort. There are clear acknowledgements of the show’s already long history and it is made clear to audiences why and how these artists should be exhibited. Rarely does a show feel like a moving catalogue, functioning as it’s own documentary while existing in the present—but Made In L.A. 2014 feels this way.
The show offers the same formula it did two years ago: a group of Los Angeles’ most contemporary artists—emerging and not—are given the Hammer as a venue. There will be prizes and programs and potential to be seen by tons of patrons, casual and not. There is a clear advancement of concept and education too: the show takes place under one roof this go around and there are almost half as many artists participating, vying for three prizes instead of one. The curators and staff have cut and pasted what worked from the last show into this one. It’s still a work in progress—but this effort is definitely more aware of that fact. It is in no way over confident or puffy.
Thirty five Los Angeles artists fill the space and cover a wide range of styles. There are giant, seemingly unfinished installations and works that you could easily confuse for being part of the museum’s every day appearance. Some artists have one small room while others have giant corridors. Many of the works share spaces with another or act like a thoroughfare from one to another, passing an artistic baton from peer to peer to peer. Even the permanent collection of the museum has been bumped out and replaced with contemporary works: the entire museum has stopped to honor these thirty five.
The group of artists is wild too. Jennifer Moon welcomes you into her own wild little world, a gallery within a gallery. Artists like Gerard & Kelly and Samara Golden bring viewers in to not only experience artworks but to become active participants in a piece. More traditional works from persons like Max Maslansky, Sarah Rara, and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess have their charms while A.L. Steiner, Wu Tsang, and Mariah Garnett embrace you with (gender) political concept. KCHUNG‘s television station is an advancement for them and brilliantly charming while Jibade-Khalil Huffman‘s poetic projections tell a bold story within the story of Made In L.A..
This overall narrative can get a bit jumbled though. A big push in the show was to share artists who curator their own version of Los Angeles art, mini-institutions working in their own world: this effort absolutely did not land, offering confusing mini-mazes instead of completed thoughts. Although the wealth of space and time and attention to each participant was spread very easily, a few of the artists were completely missed or could easily be walked passed. While the majority of works presented were of a certain intellectual caliber and fine execution, some felt slipshod and underdeveloped—perhaps even young. Thirty five also seems like a small number, too. (But is much better than sixty.)
One nagging question remained too: what exactly does it mean to be “made in L.A.”? What was the criteria for including or excluding an artist? If these works do not feel reflective of the city or its character (And many do not.), then why are they so local they need to put on a pedestal?
But, there is care here. The flaws are big imperfections, sure, but the Hammer wisely embraces everything that works and doesn’t, making a show that is about capturing a moment in time and presenting them to all types of audience members to understand. The show doesn’t make a viewer feel dumb or out of the artistic loop but instead welcomes them into this art house to understand for him or herself why this exhibition is happening. While the viewer’s vote may be less powerful than before, the presence of the watchers is absolutely clear. There are so many moments to interact and to educate and to feel like you—the viewer—is participating in what makes Los Angeles art now.
That’s no small feat. As we learned last time, the show could easily derail and distract and lose its own grasp of itself. Made In L.A. 2014 is resoundingly confident and cool and is an undoubtedly Los Angeles’ show. It is not perfect but it is an earnest effort. The show also invites you back, to wander and peruse and dive into the it again and again. In 2012, the show felt like a chore, like you were obligated to do your contemporary art history homework. In 2014? You feel like you need to write the show a thank you note, acknowledging it—and the artists—for a job well done.
Made In L.A. 2014 is on view now at the Hammer. The show will be on view through September 7 with intermittent programs that activate the space and artistic community. Learn more about events here.