Hammer announces 5 artists in running for $100,000 Mohn Award

A jury set up to review the work of 60 artists in the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial, produced this year with LAX Art, has selected five finalists for a new $100,000 prize.

The artists up for the Mohn Award are: Simone Forti, Liz Glynn, Meleko Mokgosi, Erika Vogt and Slanguage (the husband-and-wife team consisting of Mario Ybarra Jr and Karla Diaz).

Anyone who watches “American Idol” knows the process: Judges choose the pool of candidates and viewers choose the winner. And now the Hammer Museum is using this semi-democratic format to recognize a local artist. The popular vote to determine the winnter starts today at noon and closes at the end of the day Aug. 12.

Forti at 77 is the oldest of the group; the rest are in their 30s. Apart from Mokgosi, a painter, the artists tend to combine genres to create rather layered or thoughtful work. None of their works in the show would be described as flashy or slick.


Working at the intersection of dance, drawing and writing, Forti did a live performance this month at LAX Art called News Animation Improvisations, based on journal entries she wrote this year after reading the daily news. The video of that performance is installed alongside related works at the L.A. Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park, one of three locations for the show.

Glynn has made an architectural installation for the Hammer loosely inspired by the 2011 Egyptian revolution, complete with lead replicas of objects that were supposedly smuggled across the border. The work both discourages (through the use of lead) and encourages (there are gloves to use and drawers to open) user interaction.

Mokgosi, who was born in Francistown, Botswana, has made a suite of paintings that present images of political carnage and postcolonial tensions in Africa. One canvas has a visual stand-off between two sets of uniforms: schoolchildren wearing red and military figures in black.

Vogt explores the building blocks of storytelling with her installation. An assortment of found objects and cast-iron pieces -- from scissors to a cowbell — are scattered on the gallery floor at the Hammer. These tools or props are also brought to life in drawings, mimeographs and a pair of enigmatic videos, installed on facing walls.

Meanwhile, Slanguage has staged a “takeover” of LAX Art, complete with kids’ art workshops, poetry readings and other events that reflect the group’s collaborative spirit. They have also created a mural on the side of LAX Art featuring oil refineries, a city skyline and a large “W” that seem to nod to their home base, Wilmington.

The jury consisted of four contemporary art curators not involved in the making of this biennial: independent writer-curator Anthony Huberman, Doryun Chong of the Museum of Modern Art; Cecilia Alemani, the director of High Line Art Program; and Rita Gonzalez of the L.A. County Museum of Art. All except Gonzalez are based in New York.

According to the Hammer Museum, the jurors were given few guidelines in their task of choosing the “strongest presentation” in the show, but they were asked to choose the five artists “collectively,” as opposed to each submitting a top choice or two.

To vote, visitors must register at a kiosk set up at one of the show’s venues. Voting then takes place through the kiosk or online.


At $100,000, the Mohn Award exceeds the Turner Prize in London for dollar value but matches the Bucksbaum prize, given to a Whitney Biennial artist. The Hammer prize will be split over two years. In addition, the winning artist’s work will be the subject of a publication underwritten by Jarl and Pamela Mohn, who funded the prize. Mohn, an art collector, was the founder of E! Entertainment Television and before that an MTV executive.

Most of the artists have shown with L.A. galleries: Forti at the Box, Vogt at Overduin and Kite, Glynn at Redling Fine Art and Ybarra Jr. at Honor Fraser. But only Forti and Glynn have had books about their work published before.

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