Hammer Museum to get exhibition on British designer Thomas Heatherwick

Hammer Museum to get exhibition on British designer Thomas Heatherwick
Designer Thomas Heatherwick's cauldron for the 2012 Olympics in London. A touring survey exhibition on his work will come the the Hammer Museum in February 2015. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They say every cloud has its silver lining. Evidence that it's true will be coming to the Hammer Museum early next year in the form of a touring exhibition on the work of Thomas Heatherwick, a noted British designer whose credits include a new fleet of London double-decker buses and the gasp-inducing copper cauldron that held the Olympic flame during the London Games of 2012.

The cloud in question was the financial near-collapse of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art late in 2008. It led immediately to the ouster of museum director Jeremy Strick after nine years on the job. Soon after, Brooke Hodge, MOCA's architecture and design curator for eight years, was among 32 staffers laid off as the downtown museum slashed its spending by a third.


A potential MOCA survey on Heatherwick the two had begun to plan went with them. Strick invited Hodge to carry on with it at as a guest curator in Dallas at the Nasher Sculpture Center, which had hired him as its director almost immediately after his exit from MOCA.

Now comes word of "Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio," opening Sept. 13 at the Nasher and due to arrive at the Hammer in February 2015.

Billed as the first museum exhibition on Heatherwick in North America, it was curated by Hodge independently of her job as director of exhibitions and publications for the Hammer, where she'd landed on her feet in 2010 after working in the interim as a freelance curator. She had included some of Heatherwick's work in the 2006 MOCA show "Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture."

After the Heatherwick exhibition ends at the Hammer on May 24, 2015, it will head to the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. Hodge will get there first: Cooper-Hewitt announced in late May she's been hired to be its deputy director starting in July.

Hammer spokeswoman Sarah Stifler said it was a coincidence the New York museum is getting both the curator and the exhibition, saying the tour had been mapped out before it hired Hodge, who's currently finishing her duties at the Hammer.

"I've followed Thomas Heatherwick's work since 2003 and I believe he is one of the most brilliant designers of  our time," Hodge said in the Nasher's announcement of the exhibition and tour, which will span Heatherwick's oeuvre using prototypes, large models, objects, photographs and videos.

A span, in fact, helped turn him into a design-world star in 2004. "Rolling Bridge," a footbridge over a London canal, is a drawbridge that curls backward like an inchworm instead of taking the conventional approach of having each half lift in the middle to let passing boats through. Not content to raise the bridge enough to give boats passage, Heatherwick made the inchworming end curl all the way back, until its head connected with the opposite foot of the bridge, forming a wheel.

Heatherwick, who's in his early 40s, formed his Olympic cauldron from 204 moving copper petals. In a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said his aim as a designer has been to shake up the standard images of what looks British: "bowler hats, black taxis and rain … I didn't want to use the same cliches. Modern U.K. has gotten stuck in the way it communicates to the outside world."

Evidently feeling that one good footbridge deserves another, authorities in London are considering implementation of Heatherwick's latest design, a "garden bridge" that would span the Thames with a long stretch of greenery, mounted high enough to let boats pass below it. Design images of the bridge, which will be part of the "Provocations" exhibition, recall the High Line park in Manhattan that's built along an abandoned railroad line, except on a bigger scale, and with more impressive greenery.

Note to L.A. officialdom: Now that the gears have begun to turn on a possible plan to snatch the Los Angeles River from the jaws of ugly, manmade defeat, might it not make sense, as an exercise in civic brainstorming, to take in this show when it comes to town?

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