Made in LA: 2023 Acts of Living at the Hammer Museum
On a recent visit to the Hammer Museum, I had the chance to walk through the Made in LA: 2023: Acts of Living exhibition. This showcase featured the works of 39 local artists and collectives, offering a vivid reflection of the vibrant creative spirit that defines the City of Angels. As I strolled through the first gallery, specific works stood out with their remarkable presence, meticulous craftsmanship, and thought-provoking materials. Teresa Baker’s innovative use of yarn and artificial turf gave life to abstract forms that sparked contemplation about indigenous land authority through remapping. Adjacent to Baker’s creations, the functional design proficiency of Ryan Preciado aroused a sense of 1950s interior decor, emphasizing the intrinsic value of everyday objects in our society. Continuing the exploration led me to Erica Mahinay’s work, where painting, textiles, and sculpture blurred the boundaries between forms, creating a cosmic narrative that resonated with the intricacies of the human body. Jackie Amezquita’s installation of 144 slabs made from masa salt, rain, limestone, and soil sourced from 144 Los Angeles neighborhoods wove a powerful narrative of displacement and migration.
The late Luis Bermudez’s ceramic masterpieces, spanning over four decades, graced the gallery with their sacred symbolism and Mesoamerican iconography, including serpents and vessels. Meanwhile, Esteban Ramon Perez’s work engaged in a compelling dialogue between textile and sculpture, reimagining abstraction and pop culture through the lens of the material’s history. One of the most poignant moments was Roksana Pirouzmand’s creation, ‘Between Two Windows.’ This exquisite piece delicately captured the essence of long-distance relationships through migration, as one window symbolized her home in the U.S., while the other represented her grandmother’s home in Iran. As I continued through the galleries of the biennial exhibition, I encountered the captivating artworks of Tidawhitney Lek. Lek’s pieces, titled “Relatives and Refuge,” featured two distinct works that seemed to exist in a realm separate from the perception of their subjects. Michael Alvarez, on the other hand, drew deeply from his memories of family, commemoration, and familiarity as the foundation of his displayed artworks. His unique technique of blurring the paintings created a dream-like, ephemeral quality, underscoring the significance of cherished moments and relationships.
In a different artistic narrative, Joey Terrill’s works conveyed a figurative story akin to comic strips. These figures spoke to the queer community and were crafted during the challenging AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s. Similar to Alvarez, Terrill used his art to immortalize the locations and individuals who profoundly influenced his life. Christopher Suarez, drawing inspiration from his Southern California upbringing, meticulously recreated a familiar thoroughfare in ceramic form. His tabletop installation featured buildings, automobiles, and sports fields, reminiscent of the style of artist Red Grooms. Paige JiYoung Moon, through her acrylic on wood panel works, offered a commentary on the city’s modest living spaces and meeting spots. With a fine brush and meticulous precision, Moon’s art reflected the creative adaptability required to thrive in the dynamic environment of Los Angeles.
Dan Herschlein added an element of horror to the exhibition with his headless figures, intricately detailed within sculptural paintings. These works invited viewers to assume the role of intruders, presenting multiple perspectives and layers of architectural forms. Akinsanya Kambon employed clay as a vessel to unearth suppressed histories stemming from colonization. His clay plaques recounted stories of revolution, and his ceramic totems depicted past realities, all narrating the experiences of the African Diaspora. Teresa Tolliver contributed twenty sculptures from her “Wild Things” series, each based on the form of a lion. Each sculpture showcased unique attributes, emphasizing individuality within a formal framework. This collection served as a testament to Tolliver’s three-decade career exploring various artistic mediums. Sula Bermúdez-Silverman’s work titled ‘Theropods’ takes inspiration from claw-foot furniture. In Chinese decorative arts tradition, it is standard to see a dragon’s talons clasping an orb, symbolizing notions of strength and security. Through these sculptures, Bermúdez-Silverman invites us to reflect on the pervasive influence of social doctrines and cultural aspirations in the objects and art that surround us. Chiffon Thomas crafts sculptures and installations that blend elements of abstraction and figuration. Thomas often uses construction materials alongside casts created from the artist’s own body, portraying the human body in fragmented forms, combined with materials that have been broken, giving life to surreal figures.
Maria Maea intimately engages with her materials, crafting body-sized sculptures from a diverse array of organic and inorganic elements sourced from her home garden, urban lots, and the historically significant Los Angeles River. The palm, a symbol with deep roots in Samoan craft culture, symbolizes the resilience of those affected by colonization, who have adapted to thrive in challenging new environments. Guadalupe Rosales’ installation features a ceremonial sanctuary with an altar displaying a sculpture of the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl, created from materials inspired by lowriding and custom car culture. This piece symbolizes the fluidity of identity. Rosales explores the complexities of identity, challenges fixed cultural ideas, and harmoniously blends ancestral wisdom, personal memory, and contemporary experiences in her work. Art Made Between Opposite Sides (AMBOS) was founded in 2016 by artist Tanya Aguiñiga to address issues at the US-Mexico border through artistic collaborations. Their project, ‘With our hands we build deities’ (2023),’ uses clay hands created with asylum seekers in Tijuana shelters, along with embroidered talismans and personal stories. AMBOS employs craft mediums like textiles and ceramics to shed light on border politics while fostering a co-creative approach. This diverse array of artists and their works provided a rich tapestry of artistic expression, drawing from personal experiences, history, and a profound sense of individuality within the broader creative landscape.
Words by Badir McCleary.