Hammer’s Hometown Heroes

By Pablo José Ramírez and Diana Nawi

The Hammer Museum’s recent biennial Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living highlighted the work of 39 artists and groups based in the greater Los Angeles area whose practices are shaped by everyday life and community. That exhibition was the perfect setting in which to photograph TheWrapBook’s “Faces of 2023” portfolio of actors who, while artists of a different sort, are also very much part of the fabric of the city’s vibrant creative community.

Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living takes its title from a statement by the renowned Los Angeles artist Noah Purifoy (1917–2004), which is inscribed on a plaque at the Watts Towers: “Creativity can be an act of living, a way of life, and a formula for doing the right thing.” The towers were built by Simon Rodia over 33 years beginning in 1921 and preserved by the surrounding South Los Angeles community, including Purifoy, to become a hub for arts education. They embody a spirit of creativity and generosity. The Watts Towers offered a resonant metaphor for this biennial: Art is an endeavor that is transformed by those who inherit, encounter, steward, reinterpret and continue it. As Purifoy’s words show us, the work of making things and how we come together around them are acts of living that guide, inspire and affirm our existence.

Ryan Preciado and canned chair
Roksana Pirouzmand, Between two windows (2023)

The works on view emerged from a multiplicity of influences and are informed by an engagement with a breadth of cultural traditions and art histories, reflecting the many worlds contained within Los Angeles. This exhibition is inspired by the different ways in which artists transform their lives into art, creating a space where the quotidian and the mundane collide with the utopian. The artworks take up questions of place and belonging, familial and ancestral memory, the body and selfhood, counter histories and collectivity and abstraction and craft. In many cases, the artists imaginatively reconstitute knowledge that emerges from displaced and suppressed histories, global diasporas and Indigenous cultures. In a society that enacts violence on nonconforming bodies and ways of being, this exhibition brings together artistic practices that are insistent records of self and celebrations of communal existence.

The configuration of the biennale was based on an intergenerational approach to exhibition-making, which could suggest lines of aesthetic, formal and political influence. Each of the groupings in the exhibition was anchored by one or more senior artists, including Pippa Garner, Joey Terrill, Teresa Tolliver, Luis Bermudez and Akinsanya Kambon, who won the exhibition’s Mohn Award. The show also facilitated several commissions, allowing artists to envision new works with the support of the museum. That was the case with a large installation by Guadalupe Rosales as well as a monumental sculpture by Ishi Glinsky. 

This year’s edition of the biennial was marked by an unprecedented representation of Latinx and Indigenous artists who, together with Black artists, made up the majority of the artists in the exhibition. New artists were shown, such as the ceramicist Christopher Suarez from Long Beach and Los Angeles-based Iranian multidisciplinary artist Roksana Pirouzmand. Indigenous artists such as Melissa Cody (Diné/Navajo) or Ishi Glinsky (Tohono O’odham) have been working nationally and internationally but rarely showing locally, making this edition an opportunity to bring these voices back to the local community.