Matthias Merkel Hess' sculptures evoke the beach. (Hammer Museum )
The Venice Biennale is arguably the most prestigious and glamorous international exhibition in the world, taking place in Italy every two years. The wryly titled Venice Beach Biennial, which is taking place on boardwalk this weekend and probably won't take place again, has humbler and funkier aspirations.
Running Friday through Sunday, it's a free-to-the-public, open-air art exhibition that brings together 87 artists. They include artists who usually show on the boardwalk working alongside, and sometimes in collaboration with, well-known artists (Barbara Kruger, Evan Holloway, Katie Grinnan and Nick Herman, to name a few) who usually have exhibition spaces that are more pristine and, well, less sandy.
Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick, who organized the event as a tie-in to the museum's "Made in L.A." biennial running this summer, said the idea started out as a joke. She had just moved from New York to the Venice Beach area in 2006 and was fresh from co-curating the Berlin Biennial when a friend suggested that her next step be the Venice Beach Biennial.
"It was a joke but it stuck in my head, and I kept thinking it would be great to do something that uses the boardwalk," she said. "The art shown there is so unpredictable and free. There are no limits and no standards. It comes out of a great spirit of free expression, and it's not cleaned up and packaged for our consumption."
She liked the idea of giving more established artists a chance to experience a distribution system in which the artist typically handles everything from the staging to the selling.
Another point of interest: For many boardwalk artists the vending stands double as their studios, so you can watch them make their work.
One of Subotnick's early discoveries was Arthure Moore, a 30-year boardwalk veteran who is best known for his "Funky Pussy" paintings that show a cat giving someone the finger. Subotnick loved the image — "I think it's funny and raw and can be read in many ways" — and bought one version for herself.
She ultimately chose this image as the logo of the event, and Moore helped introduce her to other boardwalk artists and allay any suspicions about her project. "We explained we're not going in to steal their spaces or even take away their glory, and we don't see it as a freak show," she said. "I really wanted to work with them."
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