I went to the Hammer Museum for the first time yesterday, and I will refrain from any MC Hammer puns because I was singing “Can’t Touch This” in the museum which I’m sure the staff just loves the idiot who does that.
Instead I’ll focus on the fact that I haven’t a clue in hell what Hammer’s mission statement is. What do they do, exactly? What do they bring to the table that the other museums in LA don’t? Why is it in an office building? Does the building have a dentist’s office? These questions don’t get answered.
Beginning with the courtyard we found ourselves saying “Wait, what? Where is that?” a lot. Which is strange because the museum is really small. And I swear there was an exhibit of “Daumier sketches” listed on their website last week that has all but vanished into the ether. When we got there, nothing. When I checked the website…nothing. All references gone. I think the Hammer website might be gaslighting me.
In fairness, the Hammer did seem between seasons so several of the already few galleries were closed, and based on its website, they seem to specialize more in lecture series and screenings, but the art on display was kind of random and could probably be best summed up as “the personal tastes of a filthy rich man.”
There were some nice pieces from very famous artists on display but while a few of them stood out, specifically King David by Gustave Moreau, mostly because of its size and baroque Catholicism, the overall effect was the art wing in someone’s Neutra home: nice to look at, not sure why it was presented the way it was. And the most incongruous, but amusing, piece was a Lautrec study that appeared to have been drawn using colored Sharpies. The final painting wasn’t there, just this crude study with its burst of childish and bold colors surrounded by “very important works.” It made me happy.
A temporary exhibit called “Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection” featured very contemporary artists, several of whom could have been mocked by Matt Groening in a Life in Hell comic. But some had interesting pieces on display. Most notable for me was the above self-portrait by Gillian Wearing. She’s done a series of self portraits where she photographs herself as photos of other people. I don’t know how much was her own work, how much was the familiarity of the original image and how much was plain, old wall power, but it dominated the room. And the image is just downright spooky.
The only exhibit that was intentionally thought-provoking, as opposed to the “the hell?” kind, was Eric Baudelaire’s video Sugar Water. It features a billposter in a staged Paris metro station posting a rather horrific image of a car explosion. Shot in real-time, the billposter works in such a meticulously slow manner he reduces the action down to the point of tedium. Not that watching someone hang an ad in a subway station is inherently exciting to begin with. Once the final image is posted (and honestly, I didn’t stay around to watch the whole video) the audience has become numbed to its impact. It’s making the artist’s intended statement, and there is something hypnotic and narcotizing about the video.
Overall, I was decidedly underwhelmed by the Hammer but am interested in its lecture series, so I guess it was a wash. Plus Thursdays are FREE! so we certainly got more than our money’s worth. But even for its relatively low cost and cheap parking (not a meaningless consideration) I just don’t know if I’d ever actually pay to see one of its exhibits because there isn’t much to see at the Hammer.