LOS ANGELES — It’s a rare opportunity to be present at the birth of an exhibition as well as the death of one. It affords the prospect of seeing how the same group of artworks can shift in meaning and cohesion based on the varying location and curation. Last winter, I was lucky enough to be in Dallas to review the premiere of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), an exhibition that was co-curated by the DMA’s senior curator of contemporary art, Jeffery Grove, and the executive director of the Walker Art Center, Olga Viso. Since then the show has had a long run, traveling from the DMA to the Walker to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and has now come to the final leg of its tour at the Hammer Museum at the University of California Los Angeles.
At the director’s reception last Thursday night, I made my way through the throng of guests, filled with great anticipation to see how Hodges’s work would live in the Hammer’s space. It felt like going to visit an old friend who’s just moved into a new place. But that excitement quickly began to fade as I entered the galleries. While the works are still stunning, highlighting the arc of such a wonderful artist’s career, the curation of this installation is far weaker than at the DMA. Whereas in Dallas, the exhibition gave Hodges’s monumental pieces the space to breath and live — not in isolation but with a sense of harmonious separation — the Hammer’s rendition of the show is crowded, claustrophobic, and confusing. So much is happening in each gallery that your eye can’t really focus; works get lost in the chaos.
One of the most evocative pieces in the show is “Untitled (one day it all comes true)” (2013), a massive denim tapestry depicting clouds pierced by the rays of an unseen sun. In Dallas, this work was honored with a full room to itself (except for a discrete corner installation of one of Hodges’s trademark metal chain spider webs). The tapestry is so large and overpowering that having it in isolation created a quasi-religious experience for the viewer; it inspired reverence and a moment of awe. At the Hammer, “Untitled (one day it all comes true)” hangs on a side wall with other major works competing for attention, including “Untitled” (2011), a large-scale black mosaic disc. This has the effect of drowning out both pieces. (The disc, meanwhile, was the proverbial pediment of the DMA show’s architecture, anchoring the installation.) The raw liminality of Hodges’s works is sidelined at the Hammer for the sake of shoehorning them into the space. Several prominent pieces that were featured in Dallas are also absent in Los Angeles, including “Another Turn” (1999), a light-board installation that encapsulates some of the key theoretical concepts that Hodges touches on in his art.
At the Hammer, Give More Than You Take feels nonsensical, lacking a progression and a through line. The show’s delicate balance is lost, replaced by a clunky heaviness that weighs it down.
Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take continues at the Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Westwood, Los Angeles) through January 18, 2015.