Tag Archives: Hammer Museum


Korean Art in Los Angeles: The Hammer Museum and Hyesook Park (Shatto Gallery)

Sunday, April 28, 2024
“FORM AND FORMLESS” at the Shatto Gallery (April 20 – May 18, 2024)


“You and Me” (2023)

The Hammer Museum currently has an exhibition featuring the work of Korean artists who contributed to the Conceptual art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Only two of the contributing artists to the Hammer’s retrospective are women, and while this gender disparity probably reflects the actual social and artistic hierarchy of that period and movement in South Korea, it nevertheless leaves one wishing that the counterbalance had more public visibility. Perhaps, though, comprehensiveness is simply an unstable paradox, and any attempt to provide retrospective knowledge about overlooked scenes in postmodern art ends up obscuring those who unrelentingly pursue extensions of a traditional practice. Along with the current show at the Torrance Art Museum, “Risky Business,” Hyesook Park’s show at the Shatto Gallery in Koreatown in Los Angeles, “Form and Formless,” affirms the persistent viability of painting as the ever-renewing core of visual art. If Park has committed herself to painting for over 45 years, her durability derives from a meditative vision which, above all else, involves the restoration of trust as the essential ingredient of the social imagination. As one views and absorbs an artist’s paintings, the physical object of the painting itself replenishes the pleasures of human curiosity about another’s inner, intimate life, no matter how austere or agitated. Yet another bond coheres, however, in that process of giving one’s attention to a painting. Describing that bond is almost impossible: a phrase such as liminal reciprocity hardly suffices. All I know is that it involves vulnerability, which leads us back to trust. Only with that mutual commitment can the forms of color in a painting enable us to recalibrate our daily lives. This exhibition earns one’s trust by the ease of how the conversation between the painting and the viewer can get more complicated than anticipated.

Most of Park’s paintings at the Shatto Gallery are from the past half-dozen years. Fortunately, the layout of the show takes care not to impose too easy a chronological connection between each of the paintings, even if a pair of my favorite ones share the same title. The first painting entitled “You and Me” (30″ x 36″, 2023), on the back wall of the front desk, is emblematic of the jouissance that permeates the ecstatic union depicted in the larger, older version of 2018, in an adjacent room. One is grateful to have them separated, however, because it allows other paintings to provide the context for the reconciling fusion of two people. “Landing” (2024), for instance, depicts an equine eruption with a pure frontal force. Rarely has “death-in-life” been caught with such a ravishing buffer: surely the frothy cream of violet tinging the rims of the entrance/exit of bestial sentience can have no other purpose than to be a benign restoration. In that mode, a nearby work, “Ladies in Light” (2024″), reminds me of the empowering radiance in the late Lee Mullican’s work.

“Ladies in Light”

Of the paintings that one returns to after a first walk around, however, the most captivating is “Dear Father III” (2020), in which the unsaddled rear of a black horse, in profile, with a single leg demarcating a vertical horizon line, glows with an equipoise of the unseen vistas once inhabited by the creature’s vigor. The descent toward the hoof has both the unrelenting solidity that emanates from animal flesh and the mythic power that extrudes into the paradigmatic binary of the centaur. If the horse’s rear is unsaddled, it is because the unseen fromt of the horse is the rider as the insurgent, sentient beast, the patriarch as the always imagined, yet ultimately elusive progenitor. Nearby that painting is another of the exhibition’s largest embodiments of symbolic congruity between humans and other animals. “An Odd Melancholy of Being Alive,” depicts a bird gazing across a vast field of migration to the cone-shaped nest of its destiny, in which a white oval in the diagonal corner waits for a black lever to fling its futurity into the bittersweetness of an individual journey.

“Dear Father III”

“Santa Monica” exudes a sensorium akin to a jubilant, fully-embodied watercolor: the sun on the horizon is not the piercing “yellow” one might associate its usual decision with, but the intense red of the utterly molten fusion that is closer to its “true” color, if one were to record an image of the sun’s vitality as registered during the recent eclipse at earth sky.org. Instead, it is the palm tree and its frond that radiate the intensity described by Wallace Stevens in “The Palm at the End of the Mind.” Several paintings are aligned with “Santa Monica,” including “Windy Day” and “Watermelon,” which palpitate with the joy of being alive, as opposed to its “odd melancholy.”

“An Odd Melancholy of Being Alive”

Finally, one would be to remiss to visit this exhibition and not set aside enough time to find one’s inner point of equilibrium as one gazes at “Unknown Destiny.” This painting reminds me of a poem I wrote several years ago called “The Headwaters of Nirvana,” for it conjures up a hard-won levitation, as if the fecund gorgeousness of sensual perception could encompass the entire, constant redoubling of a journey along the lines of Matsuo Basho’s “Narrow Road to the Deep North.” Given that Park paints at the studio that is in the dry, barren foothills east of San Bernardino, one learns from this painting how one can draw upon memories of a pilgrimage to reinforce the resolve of the present moment and remain centered in one’s florescence.

(“Unknown Destiny”

Anthologies Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Books Painting Painting and Sculpture

Beyond Baroque — Sabrina Tasaroff’s Installation at the Huntington and Hammer

I have twice visited the Hammer Museum in the past month, both times shortly after a visit to the best dentist in the world, Dr. William Chin. I owe the good fortune of having a dentist worth a 30 mile drive through Los Angeles freeway traffic to the recommendation I got in the 1980s from my dear friends, Bob and Judy Chinello. So much of life is the odd chance meeting. My recollection is that I met Bob and Judy through Sandi Tanhouser, who had known them through her own job. One day in Ocean Park she went to vote and told me when she returned from the polls that she had bumped into friends who turned out to be living just down the street. Over the years, both Bob and Judy were among the handful (along with Brooks and Lea Ann Roddan) who encouraged me when things often looked bleakest, especially in the 1990s. I suppose it’s hard not to get sentimental in one’s old age, but I remember visiting Bob and Judy when they had moved to the San Fernando Valley and going out to the front yard to rake leaves and how it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

The first time I went to the “Made in L.A. 2020 (a version)” show I expected to see the installation created by Sabrina Tarasoff, but it turned out that her work is only at the Huntington Library. There is, however, a plaque on a wall at the top of a staircase that provides information about her project. The museum was more crowded than I expected it to be and there was a line to see one of the exhibits that was long enough to make me want to get on the road back to Long Beach before afternoon traffic got too dense.

The second time I went to the Hammer was this past week. This time it was Linda who had the dental appointment, and we dropped by the apartment of our long-time friend Laurel Ann Bogen, on the way to the Hammer and picked her up, too. On my first visit it had occurred to me to return with copies of several anthologies of Los Angeles poets that could help “frame” Tarasoff’s project. Linda took photographs of Laurel and me holding up anthologies along the plaque listing the Beyond Baroque project.

I was grateful that attendance was much lower the second time so that we could enjoy Brandon D. Landers’s paintings, which I want to visit for a third time. The three of us stood in front of one of them for several minutes, noticing how the man and the woman who were portrayed in the painting were not alone. There was a third figure who had been “painted over,” but whose clothing was still faintly visible under the layer of black paint. I need to spend yet more time with this painting to be able to write a proper appreciation, but it is worth a trip to the Hammer in and of itself to see it for yourself. I usually look at work first before I read any notes put on a museum’s walls, and I had already noticed the frequent appearance of wall sockets in Landers’s paintings when I read a comment on a wall plaque that Landers made in response to a question about them. “I am the outlet,” he said, or at least that’s the way I remember his quip.

We were also impressed with the large-scale paintings of MacArthur Park by Jill Mulled as well as the recreation of Nicola L.’s sculpture that was meant to be interactive, but which we had to refrain from coming into contact with due to the lingering pandemic. Her sculpture, with its inversion of interior and exterior points of view and participatory subjectivity, would earn my vote as my favorite piece except that I think the vote would better serve a living artist, such as Landers.

I have jury duty this coming week, so I will not be able to schedule a visit to the Huntington until I have that obligation cleared off the table.

“Five Anthologies at the Hammer” — Photograph by Linda C. Fry

(Part Two)

Sometimes an anniversary happens to coincide with the cycle of one’s ordinary appointments in such a way as to give the interruption of routine an almost jovial hint of coincidence’s blessing.

This past week marked the 20th anniversary of Linda and me getting married, and I did not want the occasion to be reduced to a dinner out on that evening, so I proposed that we get away from the filthy air of Long Beach on our anniversary and we drive up to Santa Monica to enjoy some fresh air on the beach and get to hear the sound of waves. (Long Beach, contrary to its name, has only a long embankment of sand as the actual figure of its name; the breakwater in the bay forestalls any meaningful surf, and the water is disgustingly foul.) I furthermore proposed that we spend the night at the hotel we spent the single night of our honeymoon at twenty years ago. I was still a grad student back then and had to hurry back to the campus from our wedding in Thousand Oaks to resume my job as a teaching assistant as well as grading papers; so one night was all that could be spared.

We first went to Bergamot Station, where we saw a couple of galleries still very much in business. The painting that impressed me the most was Steve Galloway’s. I am familiar with his work, but want to see more of it as soon as possible. We then went to the beach, my first visit there in quite some time. Whenever I am there, it’s hard for me not to reflect on all the years I lived in Ocean Park and how frequently I would walk down near the spot where we were enjoying the mild sun and breeze.

The Embassy Hotel on Third Street in Santa Monica is now named the Playhouse, and we enjoyed our stay there very much. About a quarter century ago the Minnesota poet Jim Moore (whose book WHAT THE BIRD SEES I published in 1978) came to Los Angeles to read his poetry and he asked me to find a hotel that was not the standard cubicle. I don’t remember how I found out about this place, but he told me that it was exactly what he had fantasized. It’s been refurbished since those years, but it still retains a European ambience.

Staying overnight also had the advantage that driving to Dr. Chin’s office was a matter of a half-dozen blocks, after which we headed to the Hammer.

This is one of the photographs that Linda took of the room. This morning, the words “The Storyteller’s Chair” came to me as I thought about putting the photograph into the blog. And so it is.

(All photographs in this blog post are by Linda C. Fry, who retains the copyright and who has given permission for her photographs to be used in this blog post.)


W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The word of W.S. Merwin’s death, at age 91, spread rapidly Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, at least among poets and artists, especially those over the age of 50. While there may be a significant number of young poets who admire Merwin’s poetry, I am not sure there are many under the age of 30 who have read more than one of his books all the way through. That may well change in another decade or two, for I suspect that Merwin’s poetry will gain many new adherents as the anthology wars of the past century firm up the boundaries of their domains within the canon, and let the current anthology wars map out new entanglements.

I mention Merwin’s presence in anthologies in part because there are far too many assumptions about the “anthology wars” between 1957 and 1977. If Merwin had an enormous influence on young poets in the 1970s, it was in part because his poetry reflected a radical shift in poetics in the years between the publication of the first edition of “New Poets of England and America” and “Naked Poetry.” In the latter anthology, Merwin somehow managed to encompass a meditative state of consciousness, ecology, and the fragility of life itself, with a vulnerable lyricism. He subdued any tendency towards sentimentality, and yet his thoughts brimmed with effusively wistful yearning.

Only a few of the poets who were in the first edition of “Naked Poetry” are still alive. Robert Bly and Gary Snyder are probably the most prominent of the survivors. Perhaps, in fact, the only two survivors. (Kenneth Patchen, Theodore Roethke, Weldon Kees, and Sylvia Plath were already dead. Berryman and Lowell would both be dead before not much more than another half-dozen years. Then an interlude before Ginsberg, Creeley, Levertov, Kinnell and Levine passed. And now Merwin, the other poet in addition to Levine to become national poet laureate.

Both Levine and Merwin were superb readers, and rather than comment on Merwin’s poetry as a way of observing his passing, I have decided to share my memories of two readings. The first time I saw Merwin read was at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center at UCLA, a structure that no longer exists. The reading series that took place there has, in fact, moved to the Hammer Museum, and been renamed in honor of Doris Curran, the long-time advocate of the original project. After a glowing introduction, Merwin stood behind the lectern and said to the assembled crowd. “I don’t have any of my books with me. Does anyone have copies?”

Within a half-minute, a hefty retinue of paperback and hardcover volumes had made their way to rest in front of him, and he proceeded to pick his way through them with the same familiarity that a rock star might churn through a set list of his or her most famous songs. Kate Braverman and I had both found ourselves sitting next to each other at the reading, and afterwards we had a bit of a laugh. No matter how famous someone might be, should they really show up without bringing any of their books?

I had come prepared to walk away with renewed admiration for his work. I had first read “The Lice” when I was a student at UCLA, and have a distinct memory of sitting in the library with that volume; and Merwin was a significant part of the first conversation I had with a clerk named William (“Koki”) Iwamoto at Papa Bach Bookstore in the late summer of 1971. Koki showed me several of his poems, which reflected Merwin’s influence, though they had at their core a voice distinct enough to push away any presumption of mere imitation. It was mainly because of Koki that I became the first poetry editor of BACHY magazine, and without his recommendation and the start it gave me, probably none of the work I have done on behalf of Los Angeles poets would have come to pass.

It was one particular poem by Merwin, however, that irritated both Kate and me. It was his quartet about the “chambers of the heart,” and its numerical predictability left both of us mimicking in a mutual sarcastic whisper the obvious opening of the final segment. “In the fourth chamber of the heart” …. We almost laughed at ourselves for our insolence. The restless impetuosity of our youthful logic had frighteningly little patience.

In the late 1990s, or thereabouts, I remember another UCLA sponsored reading that featured Merwin. He read with majestic aplomb. It was one of those pure hours of solemn, ecstatic adoration of poetry that one remembers and reabsorbs as often as possible.

The anniversary of his death is now known, and I hope it is properly honored.