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Hammer Museum’s new exhibitions connect past, present with different art forms

“Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation” opened Wednesday and will run until May 15. (Kyle Kotanchek/Daily Bruin)

“Lifes” and "Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation"

The Hammer Museum

February to May

By Steven Zhao

Feb. 19, 2022 1:14 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 21 at 9:52 p.m.

The Hammer Museum’s new exhibitions reach into the future and trace the past.

Two new shows, “Lifes” and “Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation,” debuted this month at the Hammer. Open from Wednesday to May 8, “Lifes” is an amalgamation of work from artists in a variety of different fields and explores the notion of the total work of art, or a work in which art forms are combined to create a single whole, said Aram Moshayedi, the Robert Soros Senior Curator at the Hammer. The exhibit focuses on how artists are put in conversation with each other, he said.

“At the heart of all this is how is the museum meant to function today,” Moshayedi said. “What disciplines does it serve, and what communities does it serve?”

“Lifes” started as four commissioned texts but evolved over time to include pieces from around 50 contributors ranging from painters to dancers, said Ann Philbin, the Hammer’s director. The vast range of different work present is accompanied by an hourly loop of performances, Moshayedi said. Underlying the show are performances that interact within the exhibit’s space and provide experiences that shift as time passes, he said.

For Scott Tennent, the Hammer’s chief communications officer, watching performers move in silence atop another artist’s sculptures of lions feels serene. “Lifes” is a show not meant to be experienced one piece at a time but almost all the pieces at once, he said. This unusual quality, combined with the performance, permits the show to reward patience, he said.

“It’s an interesting show that makes you slow down a little bit and try and grapple with the whole thing,” Tennent said.

As part of the more than 50 artists&squot; collaborative show "Lifes," performers sit atop sculptures of lions. (Kyle Kotanchek/Daily Bruin)
As part of the more than 50 artists’ collaborative show, “Lifes” performers sit on top of sculptures of lions. (Kyle Kotanchek/Daily Bruin)

[Related: Hammer Museum’s exhibits mesh contemporary art with politics, history]

However, “Lifes” also highlights the dissonance and problems that come with attempting to pursue the idea of a total work of art, Moshayedi said. For example, a piece from artist Charles Gaines takes the form of a suspended rock that drops at randomized moments in 10-minute cycles, shattering a glass pane at the bottom. Artists seek the ideal circumstances for their pieces to be seen and heard, and the presence of this jarring sound disrupts the environment and alters the sonic experience of the room, Moshayedi said.

The exhibition also required inducing harmony from pieces that may not necessarily belong together, Moshayedi said, which differs from the usual process of curating. Instead of choosing works that illustrate a certain concept, organizing the show for “Lifes” revolved around trying to respond to what artists wanted to put in the show, he said. Each introduction altered the energy of the room, and the composition of the room needed to be adjusted accordingly, he said.

In contrast to the sprawling nature of “Lifes,” “Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation” delves deep into three years of research on Ulysses Jenkins’ artistic journey and his critique of mass media as a perpetrator of minority oppression in the United States. The show is not just a legacy of video art, Hammer associate curator Erin Christovale said, but also recognition of Black artists who paved their own path in the ’70s and ’80s since Jenkins is recognized by many as the first Black video artist.

The exhibit itself is organized around four different but connected themes: “The Allegory of Self-Empowerment,” “The Artists of Humble Infinity,” “Multi-Cultural Ideal?” and “Othervisions: The Conceptual Reality.” These themes correspond to titles in a memoir, “Doggerel Life: Stories of a Los Angeles Griot,” that Jenkins wrote in the ’90s, Christovale said.

[Related: Graduate student discusses art, technology in ‘Software for Artists Book’]

The name “Without Your Interpretation” comes from one of the artist’s video works, in which he responded to a white critic who had reviewed one of his pieces, Christovale said. Similar to the show’s title that references Jenkins’ past, the museum retrospectively seeks to accurately represent the artist’s voice, which is facilitated by conversations with him and his collaborators.

“(Jenkins) is still here with us,” Christovale said. “He’s still a professor at UC Irvine. He’s been there for over 30 years. There’s something really special in bringing him into the fold.”

With “Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation,” the exhibit is the first solo retrospective exhibition of his catalog of pieces, ranging from murals to his more signature video performances, Tennent said. The biographical nature of the exhibit is contrasted by the time-dependent and immersive qualities of “Lifes,” which Tennent said encourages viewers to pause and interpret the show.

“You walk into the show, and you let the show unfold around you,” Tennent said. “It’s not really about standing in front of one artwork and being moved by that artwork in isolation, it’s about standing in the center of the exhibition and letting the exhibition happen.”

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