What’s Up at the Hammer?

Screencap from "Isola Bella" by Danica Dakić (2007-2008) at The Hammer Museum

Sadly, not a lot this time around.  Of the temporary exhibitions, the sculpture of Dopey, while somewhat clever, really left a whole Peggy Lee “Is That All There Is?” feeling because, well, it was just an odd sculpture of Dopey sitting alone in a room. You walk in, you say “Yup, that’s Dopey,” and you continue on your way.  And the Linn Meyer project in the lobby, while visually appealing, really seemed like a long-form doodle on the lobby wall.  Something nice to look at while you trudged up the stairs to the courtyard.  Which is, I guess, its purpose.

So that left the two main exhibitions Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective and Isola Bella by Danica Dakić, with wildly differing impressions for me.

The first one we visited was Isola Bella a film by a Bosnian artist named Danica Dakić who staged and shot the film in collaboration with the residents of a home for the mentally and physically disabled in a town outside of Sarajevo.  The residents wear paper masks throughout and either perform, tell their personal stories, or participate as audience members.  The masks are whimsical while the wallpaper is fanciful (featuring tropical greenery, giving the film its title, which translates to “beautiful island” in Italian) and together they imbue the video with an incongruous levity around the margins.  But at its heart it’s very Balkan.  Almost Gothic in its sobriety, between the dim lighting, static composition, sloping posture of most of the residents and their nearly colorless wardrobe of sweaters and track jackets, their disenfranchisement, loneliness and isolation practically radiate off the screen.

But true to her Balkan nature, Dakić doesn’t so much revel in their pain to point out the rest of the world’s callousness as much as empathize with them and asks the viewers to feel their stories along with them.  Or maybe, more likely, my Balkan nature made me see it that way.  Whichever it was, though, I was truly moved by this little film and on its own might be worth a visit.

The same cannot be said of the Paul Thek retrospective.  Maybe the context of visiting the Thek exhibition after watching the movie put me in a head space that just wasn’t prepared for his work, or maybe it was inadvertently viewing the exhibition in reverse chronology which, strangely, still followed the likely path of moving from the more juvenile to the more sophisticated to, ultimately, the creepy and gross, but whatever caused my disinterest I just couldn’t care enough about his work.  The exhibition seemed disjointed, the works didn’t really flow and some of it just seemed to be gross for gross’s sake.  Especially the fake pieces of meat and plastic body parts.  They may have fit into a specific zeitgeist that I wasn’t a part of, but his work seemed dated.  I did like the self-portrait of himself as an ambulatory potato, though.  And the garden gnome paintings.  Still, they’re not enough to recommend the exhibition.

The Dakić exhibition runs through August 7, while the Thek exhibition runs through August 28.  But if you don’t just want to go to see a 20 minute movie (understandable) the Hammer is opening its Ed Ruscha: On the Road exhibition tomorrow.  If you like to read your artwork, it’s likely a better companion to the Dakić film and runs in the galleries contiguous to the permanent exhibit, so at the very least you’ll be able to swoon over the Moreaus and the Sargent.

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2 Responses to What’s Up at the Hammer?

  1. Laura says:

    I find — to my surprise — that Isola Bella has really stayed with me. Such poignant beauty. Glad I went with you or I might have skipped out after a few minutes and missed the accumulation of gravity that work brought.

    • Dina says:

      I know. It was a film that really needed the full viewing to appreciate, and if I’d gone alone, I likely would have left after a few minutes as well and not been able to fully appreciate it.

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