Clear, cloudless skies, brewing coffee and two new shows at the Hammer Museum – it’s fall in Westwood.
Both exhibits, “Witch Hunt” and “No Humans Involved,” had been in the works for years when the museum’s closure in 2020 postponed them, said Scott Tennet, Hammer’s communications director. In addition to a show featuring Los Angeles artist Andrea Bowers slated for summer 2022, these are the last exhibits Hammer has planned ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Tennet said those shows have fall present an international artist program.
“Finally, having the chance to show these exhibits is really great,” Tennet said. “A lot of these artists have, in ‘No Humans (Involved)’ in particular, their first big shows in Los Angeles.”
“Witch Hunt” features the work of 16 mid-career women from 13 countries, with 10 pieces on display at the Hammer and five at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Planning for “Witch Hunt” began in 2017 following the US presidential election election, said Connie Butler, Hammer’s chief curator and co-curator of the exhibition.
As seen in both “Witch Hunt” and “No Humans Involved,” Butler said the Hammer likes to wear politics on his sleeve and willingly addresses political issues in his public programs and exhibits. She said problems marginalized people face – whether it is the experience of blacks or the experiences of women – are broad, but responding to contemporary culture is an objective of the museum.
“We thought, ‘Let’s put on a really tough and powerful show because we all thought Trump might get reelected,’” Butler said. “Now, with what’s going on in Texas around reproductive rights and the various voting rights in this country, these questions are still incredibly topical.”
[Related: Graduate student’s art exhibit speaks on diasporic communities through soil]
Corn feminism in “Witch Hunt” is broadly defined, Butler said. “Witch Hunt” criticizes the exclusion of women of color in feminist history and addresses environmental, queer and anti-colonial issues, she said. Common threads run through the show, she said, such as the theme of craftsmanship and materiality present in Otobong Nkanga’s tapestries “Double Plot” and “The Leftovers”. But the objects are not in conversation with each other as “Witch Hunt” highlights the 10 artists as individuals, she added.
“These are incredibly mature art practices,” said Butler. “They know what they’re doing. They rule the space. We wanted to be respectful of all of this, and we wanted to advocate for multiple feminisms, multiple ways of approaching the subject of history.
The story is also a theme of “No Human Involved,” especially Western modes of humanism, a system of human-centered philosophies, methods and beliefs, said Erin Christovale, Associate Curator at Hammer and Curator of this exhibition. Inspiration for the exhibition came from novelist Sylvia Wynter’s play ““No human involved”: An open letter to my colleagues, ”said Christovale. The essay refers directly to LA and 1992 uprisings which she said marked a major cultural and political change for the city. Christovale said most of the pieces are made for the show and Wynter’s piece framed the way artists think about their work.
[Related: ‘Shadows Fall Down’ spotlights connections in art across time, distance]
LA-based artist Eddie Aparicio, for example, wanted his piece for “No Humans Involved” to connect the LA community to El Salvador, where his family emigrated in the late 1980s. So, for his piece “Sepultura de Semillas / Sepulcher of Seeds,” Christovale said Aparicio had worked with amber, an important natural resource in Central America. Aparicio wanted to think about how to use the region’s natural resources in a restorative way, Christovale said.
“There are a lot of new leaps that these artists are doing that they’ve never done before or material that they’ve never worked with before that they decided to work with on this show considering the letter. “said Christovale.
In “No human involved”, Christovale sought to honor and develop Wynter’s work, which she says is a beacon of black anti-colonial scholarship. The newly commissioned works disrupt and question Western ideals of humanism, she said. While the Hammer addresses political issues through its exhibits, Butler said that is not the case with all shows. In another exhibit opened this fall, “Shadows Fall Down,” Butler said curator Monica Majoli examines history through a contemporary lens – another of the Hammer’s goals.
But unlike “Shadows Fall Down,“ the works of “Witch Hunt” and “No Humans Involved” are all contemporary. Christovale said she hopes “No Humans Involved” makes an impact in her individual works, but open enough to inspire viewers to rethink the current state of humanism. Butler said “Witch Hunt” is about the moment, and as people start to see the art in person again, she wants the show to have an emotional impact.
“I’m incredibly proud of these two shows because I think there are all kinds of relationships between them,” Butler said. “These are shows that wouldn’t take place anywhere else in town.”