Feature

Eden’s Edge: 15 L.A. Artists

The Hammer showcases vibrant new L.A. artists.

The museum founded by Armand Hammer in 1990 has betrayed the mission of its founder, said David Littlejohn in The Wall Street Journal. Thank goodness. By breaking ties with the past, 'œthe Hammer has re'“created itself as one of the most interesting and active havens for cutting'“edge contemporary art' in the country. Hammer's original collection of impressionist and old master paintings was conventional and mediocre, and rarely as interesting as the small contemporary exhibits the museum mounted off to the side. This year, however, the Hammer broke most of its ties with the family foundation, freeing itself to concentrate on acquiring and displaying the works of young and lesser'“known artists. This 'œmust'“see exhibition' of artists from Los Angeles confirms Hammer's importance within the city's cultural scene.

It also confirms the city's importance in the broader contemporary art scene, said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. New York still dominates the art market, but L.A. has a more active and vibrant community of working artists. The Hammer's new chief curator, Gary Garrels, has culled the work of 15 local artists to create not a traditional survey but 'œa series of miniature one'“person shows.' Ken Price creates ceramics that ooze and billow gorgeously. They're almost as sexual as the explicit works here by Monica Majoli and Jason Rhoades. Lari Pittman's 'œlush images of figures in elegant free'“fall and bodily distress are lavishly adorned and chromatically pungent.' Like the intricate collages of Ginny Bishton, they have none of the coldness that turns many people off to contemporary art. 'œThese are artists who make things,' often quite beautiful things.

Most museums wouldn't take a chance with a show featuring so many unknown artists, said Doug Harvey in the LA Weekly. That's why Eden's Edge is such 'œa great and unexpected pleasure.' The artists turn out to have more in common than just geography. Very few create entirely abstract works; most include either recognizable human figures or landscapes. They jumble up high and low culture with evident enjoyment, and 'œmany seem to capture and freeze moments of seething fragmentary flux.' Other themes are easily identifiable, but thankfully the curators don't strike you over the head with them. Instead, the exhibition's laid'“back layout allows you to wander from room to room discovering the 'œdistinctly Angeleno strain of contemporary visual language' for yourself.

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