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Talk of the town

By Alexis Matsui

Nov. 9, 2004 9:00 p.m.

Hundreds of Los Angeles celebrity magazines won’t give you
half the intimate details of watching some of the most important
artists of the country in their open conversations at the UCLA
Hammer Museum.

The Hammer Conversations series, which occurs about once every
month, presents two interesting people and lets the magic create
itself. First, primary artists are selected and are then asked to
invite a guest.

Hammer Museum Communications Director Stephen Böddeker is
one of the organizing minds behind the series.

“The conversations become something where two creative
people can talk to each other and share experiences across art
fields,” he said.

The conversations in which artists come together across multiple
genres often turn out to be the most interesting. For instance, a
conversation on Nov. 30 with screenwriter/director Bill Condon and
author T.C. Boyle will feature talks about the author’s work
and how his writing has been reflected in the film industry.

Some conversations have become more political in topic as well,
especially in the light of the heated politics of the past few
months. In the last conversation, radio figure and comedian Sandra
Tsing Loh invited actor and writer Harry Shearer (the voice of Mr.
Burns on “The Simpsons”), and the two were able to talk
about the then-upcoming presidential election.

“Usually they don’t just talk about their own work,
but what’s important in their lives,” said

The open format of the conversations seems to be what allows
artists to explore many interesting areas, and separates the Hammer
Museum conversations from other kinds of public forums.

“The unmoderated pairing of two great minds makes the
conversations different every time,” Böddeker said.

Tonight, the two featured artists will be “I Heart
Huckabees” director David O. Russell and actress Lily Tomlin,
who stars in the film and also has a role on “The West

The film, an existential detective drama, has been grabbing the
attention of critics across the United States as one of the most
interesting films of the year. Russell, who also directed
1999’s “Three Kings” and produced this
summer’s “Anchorman,” was chosen because of the
interesting range of his work.

After inviting Russell to speak, the director invited Tomlin to
create what the Hammer Museum hopes will be an interesting
conversation about their work together on the film.

“This conversation may be a little different, since the
two just finished working together,” said Böddeker.
“We don’t determine what the subjects should be, but
they will probably talk about the makings of the film and the
philosophical ideas behind it.”

Hammer Conversations is open to the public, and seating is first
come, first served. This type of open forum brings in a diverse
audience. There’s usually a very mixed group of students,
artists and community members, depending on who’s

Although primary artists in the series are welcome to invite
whomever they would like to the discussions, the conversation
series is rarely used as a platform for debate or argument.

“The artists involved are usually interested in each
other’s work and have a deep respect for one another,”
said Böddeker.

The Hammer Museum does have another series, however, called
Hammer Forum, which consists of a variety of art installations,
conversations and musical events.

Artist presentations in Hammer Forum can be a little more

“We had one where the guest was (rapper) Chuck D, and
those conversations had a little more edge to them,” said

Hammer Forum events are announced as they’re confirmed,
and the Hammer Museum’s Web site can also offer insight into
other programs. The conversation series events usually last about
an hour and a half, with artists usually leaving time at the end
for questions and an open discussion.

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Alexis Matsui
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