Magazine article Artforum International

Richard Hawkins: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Magazine article Artforum International

Richard Hawkins: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Article excerpt

OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES, Richard Hawkins has emerged as a standard-bearer for a still-living tradition of renegade Los Angeles art. His work remains at best haphazardly known, making it an ideal candidate for the kind of elucidation and contextualization midcareer retrospectives provide. So Lisa Dorin (of the Art Institute of Chicago, where this exhibition originated) is to be commended for organizing Hawkins's first US survey--a challenging undertaking, given the extremely idiosyncratic nature of his art. But the show, unfortunately, was a missed opportunity, one that failed to provide a convincing armature for Hawkins's work. At the Hammer, three large rooms contained a selection of some sixty works made between 1988 and 2010, installed so as to intermingle time periods and media. The exhibition was organized around the artist's use of collage, and its search for a formal logic underpinning Hawkins's notoriously diverse production paradoxically stripped away his work's obsessive quality, along with any narrative or historical context that would have made it more intelligible. This effectively sanitized and normalized Hawkins's practice, since his art's deeply disruptive nature can't be comprehended in a vacuum.

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Although it resists being neatly organized into chronological phases, Hawkins's work follows overlapping paths: the early book works, collages, and displayed collections of the late 1980s and early '90s; the collaged Chinese lanterns, tabletop sculptures, and dollhouses that he has been making since the mid-'90s; the paintings and the collage series of the past decade. Any overview of this sprawling oeuvre would require careful editing. Though such choices are inevitably subjective, the decision to exclude painting from the exhibition, save two small canvases from 2008, seemed a clear misstep. Their elision marginalized the medium that has been the mainstay of Hawkins's practice for over a decade. It also left the show feeling oddly hollowed out, since it mostly comprised works made between 1991 and 1997 and between 2008 and 2010.

That said, ingredients for nuanced readings of Hawkins's practice were scattered throughout the exhibition. In a vitrine around the corner from the entrance, viewers found three small and rather peculiar sculptures from 1991. Titled after heavy metal bands--Every Mother's Nightmare, Trixter, Skid Row--the carefully shredded rubber masks, each featuring pictures of hunky musicians affixed with paper clips, were initially hung from nails on a wall, looped and draped like entrails. Ah, the paper clip: so noncommittal. Soon to become a kind of signature for Hawkins, paper clips suggest a joining that is provisional, as if, after the show, the pictures might be returned to some folder. The clips also damage the photos, subjecting them to a mundane form of bondage. The whole aesthetic is tortured bur tongue-in-cheek, with the cheesy flamboyance of the metal guys playing off the dime-store theatricality of the masks.

Dennis Cooper once described the masks as being like "bunches of roses sent to the wrong address." Lying curled and flat in a vitrine (since their decaying rubber is far too fragile to hang), they resembled preserved bouquets of dried blooms. The Hammer's presentation of twenty-year-old artworks as, in. effect, relics underscored one of the difficulties confronting this exhibition: It's nearly impossible to recapture how strange Hawkins's art looked, and how risky and poignant it was, in the early 1990s. Few viewers would be put off balance by the sight of SJJSS or SPP, two 1993 collages in which Post-its are taped onto pictures of beautiful boys. But to see them at Richard Telles Fine Art eighteen years ago was jarring--these were gestures of refusal and rebellion, fuck-yous directed at art-world convention. Even in a scene steeped in "scatter art" and the abject, Hawkins's scruffy little assemblages and desultory collages, his autographed books with pictures taped or tipped in, his photos defaced by markers, his stacks of letters, all seemed almost too slight and too personal. …

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