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LOS ANGELES — Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the local outpost of mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, will open its massive hybrid art space to the public on Sunday. Located on the site of a 100-year-old flour mill in LA’s downtown Arts District, the complex will include exhibition spaces, a restaurant, bookstore, central courtyard, a book and printed matter lab, even a public park. This all-encompassing approach aims to provide what curator and gallery partner Paul Schimmel described during yesterday’s press preview as “something that I think LA has long wished for and needed, a kind of seamless urban experience that doesn’t separate life from art.”
Encompassing seven buildings and stretching between 3rd and 2nd streets, the complex sprawls across 116,000 square feet, just 4,000 fewer than the Broad Museum a couple of miles to the west. The renovation by Creative Space, LA and Annabelle Selldorf makes for a dynamic experience, as visitors progress from white cube to sun-drenched atrium and into rough-hewn warehouse galleries, while smaller, more intimate rooms allow you to catch your breathe.
The debut exhibition, Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947–2016, is a knockout revisionist survey featuring almost 100 works by 34 artists created over the past 70 years. Challenging the popular art historical premise that male painters were creating the most important work of the mid 20th century, the show aims to refocus attention on both sculpture and female artists. The exhibition begins in a pristine, light-filled gallery where works by pioneering artists like Louise Bourgeois and Louise Nevelson can be seen next to those by less well-known contemporaries like Ruth Asawa, whose organic wire hangings are one of the room’s highlights. Another is a series of six grim and grimy constructions by Lee Bontecou, an artist who is often cited but rarely seen, and whose steel and canvas works must be experienced in person.
Leaving this space, you cross the central courtyard, where Jackie Windsor’s “30 to 1 Bound Trees” towers over you. This work, a recreation of a piece originally produced in Nova Scotia in the early 1970s, draws on movements of the era like Land Art and Minimalism, while at the same time recalling an ancient and earth-centered mysticism.
In the building on the far side of the courtyard, the exhibition progresses in rough chronological fashion, featuring work by the next generation of female sculptors. Soft sculpture, textiles, and material experimentation are prevalent, with excellent examples of work by Eva Hesse, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Lynda Benglis, Hannah Wilke, and Yayoi Kusama. Significantly, Latin American artists are well represented here, challenging perceptions of North American hegemony, with works by Venezuelan artist Gego, and the Brazilians Mira Schendel and Anna Maria Maiolino. Almost imperceptible golden threads block off a corner in Lygia Pape’s ethereal “Ttéia 1, A” (1978/1997/1999), a work with which I could easily have spent an hour.
The show concludes with the most recent work installed in a raw space that highlights the site’s industrial origins. The lack of interior walls and the frenetic quality of some of the pieces made for an overwhelming viewing experience, as Phyllida Barlow’s brightly-colored timber and foam construction competes with Lara Schnitger’s vaguely S&M-inspired totems and Abigail DeVille’s plywood and debris installation, “Intersection” (2014). This room seems to be the show’s least focused and there are some missed opportunities — Chakaia Booker’s muscular, undulating tire sculptures would have looked great here — but it does a good job of highlighting the way contemporary women artists have built off of and adapted the legacies of their predecessors.
An interesting and potentially problematic issue that this new kind of hybrid space raises is the disappearing boundaries between public and private, curatorial and commercial, entrepreneurial and educational in the art world. In his preview piece on Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the Los Angeles Times‘s Christopher Knight criticized the ethically questionable practice of museums loaning work to gallery shows (and counted some 13 US museums as lenders to the show). Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article about how galleries are contributing money to museum exhibitions of their artists’ work, leading to accusations that critical approval is something to be bought and sold. Revolution in the Making is a meaningful, scholarly, museum-quality show to be sure, so why isn’t it being put on by a museum?
“A show like this could not get done in a major museum today in America,” exhibition co-curator Jenni Sorkin, an assistant professor of contemporary art history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Hyperallegic. “Many museums have largely stayed away from doing thematic shows, which means risk-taking and presenting an argument. Do they want to put forth an argument as a strategy and put money behind that? It’s a big thing for museums who are having a hard time fundraising right now.” As opposed to museums in Europe, where there is a much stronger tradition of public funding for the arts, US institutions must rely on a wide variety of fundraising strategies, involving public, private, and corporate sources.
“There’s a gap in funding in this country, so private entities like Hauser & Wirth have stepped in to fill that void,” Sorkin said. “I can only applaud the fact that they’re doing something so public where they’re inviting people into the space and having public throughways and public spaces, as a way to build community.”
Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947–2016 opens at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel (901 East 3rd Street, Downtown, Los Angeles) on Sunday, March 13, 2–6pm, and continues through September 4.