For the fifth edition of its closely watched Made in L.A. biennial, the Hammer Museum will partner with the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. As part of the collaboration, the Huntington will play home to a portion of the exhibition, slated to open in summer 2020 under the guidance of independent curators Myriam Ben Salah and Lauren Mackler along with the Hammer’s Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi, who will be assistant curator for performance. The news was announced during a kick-off event marking the Huntington’s centennial, which Connie Butler, the Hammer’s chief curator, described as “a fantastic L.A. moment.”
As part of its centennial, the Huntington (which also announced a slight change to its name, putting “Art Museum” in place of “Art Collections”) is emphasizing partnerships and looking at ways it can connect with “the incredible cultural ecosystem of Los Angeles,” Christina Nielsen, the museum’s director, told ARTnews. Also integral to its future is an interest in East-West dialogues, whether between the coasts of the U.S., the poles of the Pacific Rim, or even Los Angeles’s East and West sides.
“We’re really looking at the legacy of our founders, Henry and Arabella Huntington,” Nielsen said. “Henry created a light-rail system in Southern California that connected all parts of the future. Even though it didn’t last and was supplanted by the freeway, Henry was a futurist and entrepreneur and connector of different parts of the city.”
Butler echoed the sentiment. “We see this as an opportunity to span the city and to the reach the Huntington’s diverse and large audience. We feel that each edition of Made in L.A. benefits from having a very particular character, in a way that makes it different from the last one.”
Part of the 2020 biennial’s character will be informed by the Huntington’s research libraries, botanical gardens, and historic art collections, which span 400 years of American art and 500 years of European art (including its recently restored 1770 cornerstone, Blue Boy, by Thomas Gainsborough).
“We’ve always been broader than people may think, and for me, it’s important to think about this as a continuum between artists of the past and artists of today,” Nielsen said. “In Blue Boy, Gainsborough is really letting it rip. Post-restoration, we can see his brushwork, how he’s painting in a very loose way. He was pushing the limits, and it was experimental. Why not help people understand that continuum of experimentation?”
Butler said the Made in L.A. curatorial team has already paid more than 200 studio visits to artists around the city, and she is curious to see how they respond to the Huntington’s offerings. “I look forward to seeing what artists are going to do once they dive into the richness of the Huntington’s archives, library, and history,” she said. “There’s a wealth of knowledge to be gained, produced, and activated.”
She also sees a bright future for the biennial, whose second edition she worked on, in 2014. “What I’ve seen since then is that the show has reached a tipping point in terms of audience and critical response. It’s become essential viewing for curatorial research internationally and people really look forward to it.”