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ART REVIEW

Pumping in some new life

There's fresh art on the travertine of the Getty, that repository of history. Call it a few baby steps toward being contemporary.

March 25, 2007|Christopher Knight | Times Staff Writer

THE other day I logged onto the Getty's website, and the home page featured this short entry under Exhibitions: "New works by Tim Hawkinson, postwar Japanese art, photographs by Sigmar Polke, and more." That meant a California artist born in 1960, the eruption of avant-garde art in Japan in the 1950s and '60s and the earliest photographic experiments by one of Germany's most important artists of the last 40 years. The current Getty exhibition roster is awash in, well, current art.

The "and more" cited in the entry includes a group of 12 abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter, Polke's friend and co-holder of the unofficial title Greatest Living German Artist.

Yes, there are Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and other works on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum -- the zenith being a terrific loan from the Dresden State Museums of eight moody and evocative German Romantic landscape paintings by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). These are juxtaposed with the dozen darkly luminous abstractions by Richter, a Dresden native.

But clearly, with a lineup heavy on recent art, this is not your father's Getty Center.

Of course, your father would have to be just 10 for that distinction to obtain, since the Getty Center opened in 1997. Still, something notable is up. The results might be a bit shaggy and unfocused, but the Getty has gone contemporary -- and more aggressively than at any time since 1954, when the late oilman opened his house on the edge of Malibu to the public.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 30, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Tim Hawkinson: An art review in Sunday's Arts & Music section said artist Tim Hawkinson has shown locally with Ace Gallery. He is now represented by PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Tim Hawkinson: An art review in the March 25 Arts & Music section said artist Tim Hawkinson had shown locally with Ace Gallery. He is now represented by PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 08, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Artist's representation: An art review on March 25 said artist Tim Hawkinson has shown locally with Ace Gallery. He is now represented by PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York.

Hawkinson's contribution is in two parts. It starts in the Getty Museum's rotunda, where the L.A. artist's maniacally witty musical sculpture "Uberorgan" is installed. Made in 2000, the giant oompah-machine has never been shown in Los Angeles before.

Fabricated from six enormous polyethylene bags wrapped in red plastic netting and tied with bright yellow cord, the "Uberorgan" is hoisted high overhead in the lobby. Air ducts snake through the space linking the sacks together, and long sounding-tubes made from cardboard wrapped in silver-foil protrude from them. Organ pipes are crossed with Gabriel's angelic trumpet.

Over to one side is a gizmo based on a player-piano mechanism. An electronically enhanced homemade spool of Mylar sheeting and Magic Marker black dots has been hooked up to the plastic bags and cardboard tubes. The spool begins to turn every hour on the hour, and for five minutes the "Uberorgan" plays a deep, rumbling, almost slow-motion concert.

The guttural honking is sort of like the intergalactic greeting cobbled together in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," when Francois Truffaut and friends commandeered a synthesizer to communicate with the unknown inhabitants inside a starship. In the glass-and-white-steel Getty lobby, you get to be the alien.

Hawkinson is a leading practitioner of DIY art, with most of his sculptures and collages looking as if they had been jerry-built from Home Depot salvage. The do-it-yourself genre is a robust antidote to the commercially and industrially fabricated art that has proliferated since the 1990s, in which artists hire professional manufacturers or employ vast armies of workers to make the piece. "Uberorgan" stands as an earthy, garage-band counterpoint to the extravagant, sleekly produced techno-pop of such artists as Jeff Koons or Matthew Barney. And the contraption provides a sharp, lively contrast to the entry pavilion of the Getty's over-produced, billion-dollar travertine spectacle on the hill.

Typically Hawkinson's sculptural objects derive from the human body. This super-organ makes obvious visual reference to the stomach and intestines of a digestive tract, a theme popularized by L.A. artist Mike Kelley in the 1980s. What goes in one end feeds body and soul, but what's left over eventually does come out the other end. The gastrointestinal canal is a slyly funny metaphor for the transformative powers of art.

Hawkinson gets two main uses out of the metaphor here. The musical organ proposes that making art is a basic, even elementary human function. Art defines humanity.

But the rude noises squeezed out like clockwork by the ungainly "Uberorgan" provide a raucous contrast to the sedate institutional setting in which it, like its fellow museum visitors, temporarily finds itself. Especially given the Getty's well-publicized troubles in recent years, the close encounter with a gigantic farting machine in the lobby generates involuntary smiles of delirium all around.

In the museum's West Pavilion, a small show of four Getty-commissioned works by Hawkinson is less satisfying, if only because it comes across as a modest version of his regular local gallery exhibitions. (He shows with Ace.) Each of the four represents an animal, real or imagined -- an octopus, bat, dragon and dinosaur -- though all are associated with mythic terrors, large and small.

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