Captured on video: Acts of provocative art

The work of three provocative, influential contemporary artists -- Robert Smithson, Isaac Julien and Ana Mendieta -- will be highlighted Friday at 7 p.m. in an Armand Hammer Museum presentation of "Hammer Screenings: Selections From the Hammer Video Library," drawn from the museum's collection of seminal video works that span the 1960s to the present.

Postwar visionary Smithson, who used the term "earthwork" to describe a sculptural manipulation of the landscape, is represented in "Spiral Jetty," Smithson's film about the creation of his iconic, 1,500-foot coil of basalt rock in the algae-tinged red water of Utah's Great Salt Lake in 1970.

Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote that the jetty "takes you on a rugged journey to the remote edge of an ancient ocean, the better to behold an industrial ruin disintegrating within the void. The experience is moving, powerful -- and oddly tragicomic."

Smithson's lasting influence belies the relatively brief span of his body of mature work, cut short by his death in a plane crash in 1973. (The rising waters of the lake, meanwhile, would conceal "Spiral Jetty" for more than two decades, until drought returned it to view, heavily encrusted with salt.)

Also on the Hammer program: "Encore (Paradise Omeros: Redux)," by experimental British filmmaker Julien. Saturated with color, moving between St. Lucia and industrial London, Julien's African diaspora-inspired work, with narration by Nobel Prize-winning Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, explores a quest to find roots in a new world.

Julien, whose video and multimedia installations offer provocative meditations on race and identity, sparked international controversy with his 1989 film on black gay sexuality, "Looking for Langston," when representatives for the Langston Hughes estate objected to the film's depiction of the late poet.

Selected works of Cuban-born Mendieta, who used her own body in her creation of haunting, feminist earthwork installations, round out the evening. Mendieta, who died in 1985, documented her ephemeral environmental works through photographs and film.

The films will be shown in the Hammer's new Billy Wilder Theater, part of the museum's $26.5-million renovation designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture. Admission is free; seating is first come, first served.


-- Lynne Heffley

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