The Hammer for All
In 1994, I was thick in the creative writing mood of things as an undergrad at UCLA. Between reading, brooding, and writing, I’d found the perfect job for a North campus devotee, a guard at the Wight Art Gallery. With a casual dress code, we stood in assigned spots, reminded patrons not the touch the art, not to lean on the walls, and not to sit on the floors (for too long). I ended up loving that job. I’d get asked questions about the pieces and having been in my assigned spaces for some time, I got to know the work, reread the descriptions, and sometimes talked to the student artists who created the pieces. I was an unofficial docent, until the day I found out the Wight Art Gallery was closing.
1994 was the year UCLA took over management of the Hammer Museum in Westwood. In doing so, UCLA decided to move the Wight assets over to the Hammer. Guards were given the opportunity to move as well, but once I saw those official, polyester blazers, I retired. The Hammer guards today are a different, better breed. They’re knowledgeable, friendly, dressed more informally, but above all, still follow guarding business guidelines (pencils are okay in the gallery, but not pens). The Hammer has changed tremendously since the mid-90s and today’s guards are a reflection of that.
The Hammer is much more than a museum space; it’s a cultural center. Take one look at the calendar and you’ll find it difficult to reduce your visit to once a week. With free admission to the museum and all events, the Hammer is developing into a new kind of community house for modern, art loving citizens. Whether you visit in the afternoon, early evening, or later evening hours, there is most certainly an event on campus that will inspire you.
Bringing the MoMA curated film series, The Contenders, to Los Angeles, the Hammer showcases standout films from the year. Following the screenings is a Q&A to die for. Quentin Tarantino, Todd Hayes, and Cary Fukunaga are just some of the amazing filmmakers participating in the current series. If you have time to spare at lunch, the Lunchtime Art Talks series is a perfectly timed, 15-minute discussion about a specific piece or artist. The Talks are led by the Hammer staff, such as the curators or curatorial associates. What a personal way to make a connection between the museum and its patrons.
Once you enter the Museum, the large staircase, leading to the main gallery level, is a canvas for rotating artists. Part of the Hammer Projects series, the staircase morphs into different visions throughout the year. Kenny Scharf’s color popping, graffiti inspired mural rolls alongside as you climb the stairs. The galleries on the second level are as varied as the calendar of events. Smaller gallery spaces, which are also a part of the Hammer Projects series, hold up to half-a-dozen paintings from one artist. Walking into these spaces feels like you’re visiting the artist’s studio and getting a private viewing of completed work. It’s a powerful and intimate introduction to an artist. The larger galleries are active with the current exhibitions, the Armand Hammer Collection (a cannon of paintings from the 16th-20th century), and the Hammer Contemporary Collection (art since the 1960s, focused on Los Angeles based artists).
Standing on the corner of Wilshire and Westwood, the Hammer Museum is stoic and firm. But once you step inside, the courtyard and galleries welcome and revive you. Walking into the fairly quiet lobby, I didn’t expect there to be such an LA scene just above me. The galleries were bustling, the cafe was full, and the store was busy. Luckily, the Hammer did and thanks to this foresight, the Hammer will be expanding into the first five floors of the Occidental Petroleum office building next door. The coming years of transformation will certainly bolster the Hammer Museum as an LA landmark of cultural relevance.
In the current exhibit, UH-OH, Frances Stark breaks down the sentence: “The members of our class went to the art gallery.” Stark’s tearing apart of that sentence has found an ideal home at The Hammer Museum. The Hammer is a place for all people, of all ages, and all interests. It will be exciting to see how the Hammer will grow. Until then, if you’re a part of the human class, keep visiting.