L.A.’s ‘visionary’ artists


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What are the psychic forces behind a certain kind of alternate or obsessive or fantastic contemporary L.A. art?

“There’s both a critical engagement with the stuff of the world and a fantastical retreat or projection,” says Los Angeles writer and critic Jan Tumlir. He curated an exhibition last year at Cal State L.A.’s Luckman Gallery that drew a link between the region’s wide-open vistas and themes of illusion, utopia and apocalypse. “This kind of thinking — about whole new worlds rising from the ashes — is helped along by the landscape.”


According to curator Ali Subotnick, the city’s sprawl also exerts a more practical influence. Upon moving here from New York in 2006 to join the Hammer Museum’s staff, she was struck by L.A.’s relatively plentiful and inexpensive studio spaces. “These artists can have these huge spaces and don’t have to work nonstop, 9-to-5, in order to supplement their income,” she says. “They can actually take the time to really get into their work.”

Whatever the case, Subotnick has taken the idea and run with it in the intriguing new Hammer show ‘Nine Lives: Visionary Artists from L.A.’ The exhibition opens this weekend, and Sharon Mizota takes an in-depth look in Sunday’s Arts & Books section.