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Ann Philbin Re-Envisions Los Angeles’ Vibrant Art Scene

What does it take to turn a sleepy museum in Westwood Village into the talk of the town? The answer is – “a new visionary”. In 1999, that visionary woman was Ann Philbin. She left her ten-year position as the director of New York’s Drawing Center to come to Los Angeles with a passion and purpose to reveal one of the city’s greatest hidden gems.

Philbin was eager to transform the museum’s image and attract a new generation of art lovers and did so by developing programming to accommodate the interests of the urban art scene. She founded the museum’s Hammer Contemporary Collection as well as the Hammer Projects Series, which focuses on emerging artists.

During one of my conversations with her, Philbin beamed with pride as she talked about Los Angeles’s vibrant artistic community. Many people may not know this, but Los Angles has become the mecca for emerging artists, more so than New York or Berlin. Capitalizing on the strength of Los Angeles’s artistic community, she envisioned a bold and ambitious enterprise.

Last year The Hammer Museum joined forces with nonprofit gallery LAX ART and the Department of Cultural Affairs to hold the first ever Los Angeles Biennial called Made in LA. Unlike the well-known Whitney Biennial, Made in LA had a regional focus: about 60 artists, some marquee and many emerging or lesser-known artists, were participating in this enterprise.

Made in LA was an overwhelming success: local artists had a prestigious platform to showcase their work, and the community was abuzz with the influx of the new artistic energy put on display.

Today the Hammer features contemporary artists, holds short film festivals, readings, lectures and debates six days a week. It’s safe to say Ann Philbin’s vision for turning the space into a cultural hub and gathering place for artists, students, and enthusiasts has been realized.

We look forward to having her participate on “Women in the Arts” Panel in our summit on November 7th.

At the Cutting Edge of Art

David, my husband, says that when I am on a mission, there is no stopping me.  Well, he knows me best! Do you think after taking a red eye from Los Angeles and having a couple of meetings right after I land, I would go to my hotel room to rest? Are you kidding? I went straight to MOMA, where I was looking forward to seeing 2 exhibits in particular: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography and Marina Abromovic’s performance art.

As an avid photographer and a big admirer of Bresson’s work (I once gave a first edition of his photography book to a dear friend of mine), I was just thrilled to see the range of his photographic work displayed at the museum.  His portraits and the pictures taken when traveling throughout China, Mexico, Spain, Morocco, and even Iran was just breathtaking. His eye is impeccable and his sense of timing is just right. He managed to capture the essence of the moment, and the prevailing feeling of the situation in such a masterly way. No wonder he is called the best photographer of the century.  Here is a little article my friend, Patricia Zohn wrote about this exhibition in the Huffington Post.

Abromovic’s performance art is other-worldly. If one doesn’t understand what this grand artist is aiming for, one would think it is masochistic and  at times even pornographic. Be ready to see nudity and lots of it in this show. I think Abromovic is a remarkable artist, pushing the boundaries of courage, conceptual art, while having the viewers be participants in the art.  The funniest moment for me was when I was getting ready to go through this entrance to a hall, where a nude man and woman were standing by.  There is no other way to get into the exhibition hall but to squeeze past these two naked people, which was the entire point. I was 5 feet away from the man and woman when my phone rang! My friend asked me if she had called at a bad time. I paused and said, “Well, I am looking at two naked people right now. Can I call you back?” Of course, we were both hysterically laughing at this awkward moment. And of course, I explained to her that I was at the MOMA exhibit!  Here is an article and some clips of the Abromovic exhibition:

I guarantee you, it is an experience.

My third art stop was visiting Leyla Taghinia Milani Heller’s Gallery.  When I was in NY in August, I got a chance to visit the Chelsea Museum’s Iranian Art exhibit that was curated by her. I also read a glowing article in the New York Times about Leyla and her gallery. So of course, I went to the gallery in the summer. But this time, I was lucky to catch her in town, as she is often traveling for art fairs.  She is no doubt one of the most important dealers in Iranian Contemporary Art, and her gallery was showing an exhibit of Shoja Azari’s work.

I have been a fan of Shoja’s work and he is getting a lot of press on this new exhibit.  Here is the NY Times Article on Shoja and his latest work:

There is no substitute to having an artist himself explain his work. I was fortunate that Shoja was at hand in the gallery.  Shoja talked about each piece at length, explaining the roots of his work and his inspiration in his characteristically friendly and warm manner.  What strikes the viewer is his straightforward iconoclastic gesture, the replacement of the the face of ordinary women for the image of saints in Shi’i iconography. This video instillation projected onto the icons makes these faces actually come alive and make subtle motions.  As I told Shoja myself, “I can’t take my eyes off these images. The faces truly come alive.”  There is a deeper philosophical and political undertone to his art, which in reality creates a dialogue for Iran’s tradition of using sacred iconography and for the current political involvement of women in the country. These images surely stayed with me long after I left the gallery, which proves that he has found of wellspring of powerful images to construct his form of expression around.