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Hammer presents L.A. as vibrant hot spot of contemporary art

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Although Los Angeles has made its rep as the entertainment capital of the world, L.A. is also the place where some of the most innovative contemporary visual artists are creating amazing work that can move your soul or push up against the outer limits of comprehension.
 
This other less-visible side of the L.A. story will unfold in “Made in L.A. 2012,” a sweeping panorama reflecting the state of contemporary art in Los Angeles. The UCLA Hammer Museum, together with LA><Art in Culver City and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park in Los Feliz, aims to dazzle as well as surprise visitors by showing them what’s going on in their own backyard right under their noses in every medium imaginable, from billboards to the quintessential Venice Beach boardwalk.
 
Thomas 20Lawson
Thomas Lawson. The Hanged Man, 2011. Oil on canvas. 72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm). Courtesy the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Heather Rasmussen.
The exhibition, which opens June 2 and closes Sept. 2, is the Hammer’s first large-scale biennial survey of the work of L.A.’s emerging and “under-recognized” artists. After more than a year of visiting area galleries and museums, meeting artists in their studios and keeping their ears to the ground to learn about those who are quietly working under the radar, the five curators of the show have selected 60 artists whose work best represents the vitality, complexity and diversity of the bustling L.A. art scene. Participating are 17 UCLA alumni and three who teach here — Simone Forti from the Department of World, Arts and Cultures/Dance, Erika Vogt and Mario Ybarra Jr., both from the Department of Art. 
 
“For audiences, this is a great opportunity for discovery,” said Anne Ellegood, senior curator at the Hammer and one of the curators of the show. “We know L.A. as a film town, a center for commercial film-making. But it also happens to be one of the best cities in which to study art. We have many great schools here that have incredible undergraduate and graduate arts programs.”
 
So artists move here to go to UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture and other well-regarded schools, and then remain here because of the connections they make in the arts community, the ideal weather and relatively easy access to big spaces in which to work, she said. “There are thousands of artists living here, but there are never enough exhibition opportunities or structures to support them,” Ellegood said. “That’s true of many cities.”
 
“Made in L.A.” constitutes a “snapshot taken every two years to give people a sense of what is happening locally and what artists are producing,” said Cesar Garcia, associate director of LA><ART, a curator for the show and a Ph.D. candidate in world arts and cultures/dance. “At the same time, we’re supporting the production of new work.”
 
Pearl Hsiung
Pearl C. Hsiung. Shecretes, 2008. Oil-based enamel on canvas. Courtesy the artist.
In fact, most of what’s being shown — film, video, sculptures, paintings, performances, drawings and installations — was created specifically for this exhibition. There were 10 major new commissions for the show, and each artist received an honorarium.
 
“There are some big, ambitious projects here,” Garcia said. For example, artist Pearl Hsiung, a UCLA alumna, produced her largest painting ever for the show — a gigantic 13-panel installation.
 
“These artists have gone above and beyond to challenge themselves and to make incredible new work for us. I was taken aback as I walked through the galleries because I was so thrilled,” Ellegood said.
 
Another UCLA alumnus, filmmaker Vishal Jugdeo, traveled to Mumbai, India, to work with local actors to make a video that is unsettling in the way that it disrupts order and embraces the “unpredictability and potential volatility of live situations,” Jugdeo said in a published commentary. While viewers watch the video, motorized sculptural objects will move around them, “so that you actually almost experience being in the set of the film as you’re watching it,” Garcia said.
 
Camilo Ontiveros, another UCLA alumnus, based his project on the exportation of soil from Mexico into the United States. Transporting foreign soil is a task mired in U.S. rules and regulations because of the danger of bringing in foreign organisms. But Ontiveros thought he had found a loophole — it might work if the 1-cubic meter of compacted, clay-like dirt was labeled an art object. With the help of the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, the artist tried, but then failed to get the proper permits he needed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring the art object to the Hammer.
 
Dan Finsel. At work in the studio in Chatsworth, CA, 2011. The Space Between You and Me, 2012 (detail). Courtesy the artist. Photograph by Joshua White.
So all visitors will see is an empty platform, along with a video of the soil being extracted in Mexico and the artist’s parting comment: that it is more difficult to export land into the U.S. than labor. Ontiveros is drawing a parallel between the complex rules that block the transfer of soil and the policies controlling immigration and the movement of people across borders, Garcia said.
 
L.A. audiences will also be introduced to the work of 80-year-old Channa Horwitz, who has been creating geometric abstract drawings on graph paper for years. Visitors will be amazed by the renderings of this artist, who has been working for 50 years in “relative invisibility,” Ellegood said. Horwitz may be better known in Europe, where she has been showing more frequently than in L.A. over the past couple of years.  
 
“She has been totally committed to her practice for all these years,” Ellegood said. “She would be making her work even if no one ever looked at it. … The opportunity to show her work is a privilege.”
 
Sluggett.
Ryan Sluggett. Family Limo, 2011. Acrylic, fabric dye, tempera, and oil on colored fabric. Courtesy Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Fredrik Nilsen.
In addition to the huge number of materials on view, there will be animation, spontaneous performances and dance. Throughout the summer, artists will be producing work to be displayed on billboards at various locations around the city. And for one weekend in July, more than 30 artists will give live performances and display new projects on the Venice Beach boardwalk during the first Venice Beach Biennial, a tongue-in-check reference to the world-renowned Venice Biennale in Italy.
 
Visitors will take part in choosing the winner of a $100,000 award, funded by art-loving philanthropists Jarl and Pamela Mohn. A jury will select five finalists for the Mohn Award, but the winner will be chosen by visitors, who will be voting online.
 
“These kinds of show are really fun and lively,” Ellegood said. “There will be work that people will love, but also work that will make them scratch their heads. It’s not the kind of show where you expect people to love everything. But that kind of curiosity and exposure to something new is wonderful for people to experience. I hope people come who have never been here before.”
 
To find out a schedule of more than 50 “Made in L.A. 2012” events and programs to be held at all three venues, go here. There will be public tours available led by trained UCLA students, docents and educators.
 
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