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Issue 240

The 2023 Made in L.A. Biennial Exemplifies the Practice of Everyday Life

The 39 artists of the sixth edition both capture and prompt tender interactions that tease out overlooked histories across the city

BY Armando Pulido in Exhibition Reviews | 25 OCT 23

In front of the Hammer Museum’s gift shop, a colourful mound of ceramic hands and accompanying textiles awaits encounter. A sign nearby invites viewers to touch the sculpture, explaining that ‘each hand is made by a person with a history of migration’ and suggesting they should be handled ‘with care’. Shepherded by the collective Art Made Between Opposite Sides, Con nuestras manos construímos deidades / With our Hands We Build Deities (2023) tells the personal narratives of asylum seekers and refugees in Tijuana, San Diego and Los Angeles. Such a sensory and tender interaction is just one of many awaiting visitors to this year’s ‘Made in L.A.’ biennial.

A hanging sculpture that includes boxing gloves and plants
Esteban Ramón Pérez, Chimalli de Mis Ojos, 2022, Necalli leather boxing gloves, peacock blade and eyelet tail feathers, chile de arbol, chile Cora, wood, copper, jute, 122 × 61 × 61 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Elon Shoenholz.

Titled ‘Acts of Living’, the sixth iteration prompts the city into a conversation with itself. After conducting more than 200 studio visits, curators Diana Nawi and Pablo José Ramírez brought together 39 intergenerational artists and collectives to connect decades of art-historical legacies with emerging contemporary artists, providing a space for the quotidian to collide with utopian aspirations. The title’s source is a testament to the excavation of these local histories: it comes from a statement that LA artist Noah Purifoy inscribed on a plaque at Sabato Robia’s folk-art sculptures, The Watts Towers (1921–54): ‘Creativity can be an act of living, a way of life and a formula for doing the right thing.’

A landscape painting of a family and soldier looking over an explosion
Tidawhitney Lek, Bad Habits, 2023, acrylic, glitter, oil on canvas, 1.5 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: the artist and Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles

Situated in South Central Los Angeles, The Watts Towers serve as a germane historical starting point for the exhibition as synecdoche for the city’s overlooked cultural narratives. Artists like Tidawhitney Lek and Christopher Suarez, for example, hail from Long Beach but represent the vastly different experiences of Cambodian and Mexican migration legacies, respectively. Suarez’s PCH & Cherry at 7 p.m. (2023) is a surprisingly intimate portrait of his neighbourhood rendered as a ceramic tableau; at scale, it characterizes a totality of urban practice which includes the specificities of local advertising, apartment living and a playfulness innate to its execution. Lek’s Relatives (2022) homes in on a caring exchange: cast in a purple sunset haze within the architecture of residential fences, two Cambodian relatives share a moment of jest, inserting a joyful narrative within a tale of migration.

An abstract tapestry of multiple colors
Melissa Cody, Dopamine Dream, 2023, jacquard wool tapestry, 1.3 × 1.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Legacies of place in LA are also told through a diverse display of material and form. Melissa Cody’s Scaling the Caverns (2023) nods to indigenous knowledge and techniques passed down through the generations. Also hailing from Long Beach, Cody draws on her Diné/Navajo heritage to create abstract textiles that combine traditional Diné compositions with the use of a digital loom. Esteban Ramón Pérez excavates the history of leather, which he first became familiar with as a child in his father’s upholstery shop. In Exit (Ascension) (2023), Pérez blends the quotidian use of craft materials with painting techniques by adorning a camouflaged Catholic sacred heart with Mesoamerican design to physically inscribe green and earth-toned leather with legacies of colonialism and religious indoctrination.

A painting of a woman holding her infant, surrounded by the detritus of motherhood
Paige Jiyoung Moon, Nap Time With Mia, 2022, acrylic on wood panel, 41 × 51 cm.

Courtesy: the artist and Steve Turner, Los Angeles

The practice and sentiment of everyday life, consistently represented in ‘Acts of Living’, is perhaps best exemplified by the meticulous, small-scale acrylic paintings of Paige Jiyoung Moon. Mom in the Kitchen (2016), which depicts the artist’s mother seen from behind washing dishes, captures the quiet solitude of domestic practice. Nap time with Mia (2022) contemporizes the iconography of the Madonna and Child – littered toys, picture books and exercise equipment – engendering a sense of kinship and tenderness that leaps beyond the canvas. Altogether, the works in ‘Made in L.A.’ gaze both inward and all around to evoke the city’s histories and cultures.

Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living’ is on view at Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, until 31 December. 

Main image: Jessie Homer French, Urban Coyotes, 2023, oil on artist canvas, 61 × 107 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Various Small Fires, Los Angeles / Dallas / Seoul and MASSIMODECARLO, Milan / London / Paris / Beijing / Hong Kong

Armando Pulido is a writer and curatorial assistant at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, USA.