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Art review: The Hammer biennial 'Made in L.A. 2012' succeeds

'Made in L.A. 2012' review: The Hammer biennial mixes works by younger artists and more established artists such as Channa Horwitz, Simone Forti and Morgan Fisher.

June 08, 2012|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic

Mimi Lauter's enormous, richly colored pastel drawings are cave paintings of the soul, their densely scratched imagery reading as wild landscapes merged with viscera. Across the room, organic mandalas fusing Eastern and Western motifs unfold within intricately crafted, jewel-toned "tramp frames" painted by Zach Harris.

Three installations that employ video stand out. A viewer sits among Koki Tanaka's suspended mirror-disks to watch and hear two marimba players improvise on their instruments, the slowly spinning reflections magically pushing and pulling perception in and out of infectious musical rhythms. Dan Finsel's eccentric, erotic obsession with an awful sculptural collaboration between New York artist Keith Edmier and late TV icon Farrah Fawcett, shown to lots of publicity at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2002, is weirdly touching — the Pygmalion story as told by Ridley Scott.

Cayetano Ferrer built a vaguely pre-Columbian temple facade as a frame for viewing a flashy floor-collage, pieced together from vibrant Las Vegas casino carpet fragments. The temple's low-relief surface is animated by garish video projections. The seductive vulgarity of authoritarian power is at once puckish and perturbing.

So it is in a very different work by the Propeller Group (Phunam Thuc Ha, Matt Lucero and Tuan Andrew Nguyen). In a creepy one-minute television commercial, slick production values try to rebrand failed communist ideology, selling it to a new century. Using capitalism's most powerful medium to achieve this contradictory project ends up illuminating — and irradiating — both.

The lilting commercial's cheerful tag line, "Everyone's welcome," might send you fleeing the room in horror. The Propeller Group is not to be confused with various ad agencies of the same name — or maybe it is, given their cunning approach.

Additional noteworthy works include paintings, installations and mixed-media sculptures by Kathryn Andrews, Meg Cranston, Pearl C. Hsiung, Allison Miller, Nicole Miller, Meleko Mokgosi, Ruby Neri, Joel Otterson, Camilo Ontiveros, Ryan Sluggett, Jill Spector and Henry Taylor. Competition should be stiff for the Mohn Award — $100,000, plus a publication — which will go to one artist in the show.

Unfortunately, a wince-inducing selection gimmick accompanies the magnanimous Mohn gift. A rather parochial jury of outside curators (three from New York, one from L.A.) will choose five finalists, but the audience will then vote the winner. This TV reality-contest process — "Dancing With the Art Stars" — is less about sharp curatorial insight into significant art, which is what one hopes for from art museums, than it is about artists' potential skill at exploiting social media and networking to rouse voters. It's a misstep for an otherwise engaging exhibition.

[For the Record, 4:40 p.m. June 10: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the year of a Farrah Fawcett-Keith Edmier LACMA show as 2000. It opened in 2002.]

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