INAUGURAL EXHIBITION AT HAUSER WIRTH & SCHIMMEL, LOS ANGELES, 13 MARCH – 4 SEPTEMBER, 2016
The latest institutional paradigm has been launched in Los Angeles. Though the paint isn’t quite dry in places (I did hear on Saturday last the chatter of a jackhammer, well-muffled beyond some massive steel doors), the edifice of Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel has opened its arms to an art-hungry public.
Unlike it’s now slightly-less-than-new art sibling, the Broad, which stands proudly atop Bunker Hill all white and marmoreal, and quirky, the HW&S collection of renovated buildings that includes a former flour mill retains a prosaic 1920s bearing. The soaring arched entry is the one exterior feature that lends majesty to its massed dominion. Perhaps in a nod to the Broad the two-story brick building has been painted white, but it has been give a battleship-gray trim that perfectly suits its re-purposed dreadnaught splendor.
The interior, as we all know, is where the treasure is kept. And for their inaugural exhibition, Revolution In The Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016, the boys at HW&S are taking no chances with dripping avant-garde street art. They have opted to set their multiple stages with roadtested treasure borrowed from the best contemporary museums. The blessings have been given. Let’s take a look at the altar.
Passing under the grand arch one enters from Third Street and ascends a few stairs to the main exhibition room, called the South Gallery. Greeting you is a group of painted wood ‘Personage’ sculptures by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). Standing slim and silent within a soft natural light, they have a totemic and gentle presence. Their slender wood bodies – there are no limbs, no eyes, no mouths – are like a silent family welcoming you in a language that you do not quite understand. They are an hermetic, perhaps autistic assembly waiting, possibly, for a few words from us the viewers to animate them. I had never seen these works before but was immediately intrigued by them and I can still feel their attentive presence as I describe my reaction to them. Their presentation benefitted from a raised platform of curving outline which echoed the feminine and organic themes of the entire show.
Off to the left, the hanging wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) hovered with great finesse above a similar platform. As my eyes traced their meticulously woven, bilaterally symmetrical and sinuous shapes, I again felt as if I were in the presence of intelligent beings. The largest of these figures must have been nearly 20 feet. Hanging beneath the vaulted skylight, it had a regal bearing compared to the nearby cluster of its slightly humbler kin. As these figures stand freely in space the complexity of their forms cast supple skeins of shadow on the gallery walls and floor. Although I enjoyed the even gaze of the institutional lighting, I wondered what magic might be wrought from the presence of focused directional lights in a more private setting.
On the wall to the right, which is to say the wall directly behind the Bourgeois sculptures, are the hoary constructions of Lee Bontecu (Born 1931). They appear like the trophy heads that line the walls in a gentleman’s shooting club, or your local saloon, if you live in Montana. They are not gentle creatures, not at all silent. With their hoods of frayed khaki-colored military canvas and used tool parts wired together they are barking junkyard dogs or alien beasts who don’t really like you. They intimidate. They challenge you with their presence. However, the masterpiece of the group is atypical of the lot. Its shaped panels are translucent scrims of drum-taut golden fabric lit from behind. It seems more like some mysterious craft that the other aliens may have arrived in.
In a less than perfect installation, a large black-painted wood bas-relief assemblage by Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) anchors an adjacent wall. It had a somber presence akin to a great pipe organ ready for its voice to be unstopped with a blast of Bach. For all its size it seemed lost. Perhaps it was just that the lighting didn’t do it any favors.
Completing the artist group gathered in the South Gallery is Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997), whose sculptures and armatures (she preferred the term “structures’) are made of tubular copper frames bound tightly with soldered copper wire and studded with fused bits of colored glass. The wire wrapping with its verdigris patina looks like tangled hair or sea-wrack, or like very stout thread, executed in a random style that contrasts strongly with the machine-like regularity of Asawa’s metallic perfection. These wrapped cages for precious things are what Penelope might have woven if she were a metal worker and not a spinner. Her rapacious suitors would have long since broken their fingernails trying to unweave this woman’s work.
There is more, much more, for the gallery-goer to see at the HW&S debut. There are numerous and weird fabric, wood and paper works by a number of artists, but I highly recommend you go to North Gallery B and view the delicate metallic curtains of the Venezuelan artist Gego (1912-1994), which appear like architectural jewelry or ethereal galactic maps you might use to find your way home from this cluster of star-studded pavilions.
Over at the Broad, less than a mile away as the art mavens fly, the lines are still a-forming in the succulent shadows of a its architecturally significant white skin. If you don’t have the time for this, it makes for a tremendously enjoyable afternoon to be able to just walk into the spacious galleries and courtyards at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel where you can easily mingle with museum-quality objects and inspiring artworks at no cost at all. You might even be so lucky as I was to find Paul Schimmel conducting a peripatetic tour for a group with whom you might loosely tag along for a few minutes.
For those desiring to chew more than the scenery, lunch will be served in the near future. And the upcoming shows promise a bonus that even the Broad can’t deliver: you can (if you have a pile of cash) buy the art and take it home.
Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016
13 March – 4 September 2016
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel
901 East 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Wednesday, Friday-Sunday: 11am-6pm