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Frieze Week Los Angeles 2024

Pablo José Ramírez’s First Year in Los Angeles

Recently appointed at the Hammer Museum, the curator enjoys studio visits, Taiwanese food and getting lost

BY Pablo José Ramírez in Frieze Los Angeles , Frieze Week Magazine | 26 FEB 24

What has surprised you most about LA? Has it lived up to your expectations?

The city of Los Angeles is, in many ways, incomprehensible. It contains many co-existing worlds. People tend to ask me whether I like LA and I often find myself unable to answer the question. I think this city is not to like, but to live in. It is not a city for tourists but for locals. I am enjoying LA, just as I enjoy dancing or driving. Only here can I go out at night and find delicious pupusas in Hollywood, a hip wine spot in Chinatown and a delirious cumbia concert in Downtown. More importantly, LA is a city with a longstanding tradition of social struggles and diasporic histories, and I’m still just scratching the surface of this fascinating and complex cultural landscape.

What have been your big discoveries about the LA art scene and its artists?

I don’t believe in discoveries—I think we witness things as we move through the world. I was lucky enough to co-curate “Made in LA 2023” with Diana Nawi [the 6th edition of the Hammer Museum’s biennial] in the midst of moving here from Europe. Contrary to what I was expecting, the city generously opened up. I witnessed an art ecology that has proved itself resilient (given the increasing costs of living in LA), with networks and communities of artists that support each other, speak to each other, and find ways to work with and beyond art institutions. The LA art scene is defined by its plurality and is a testimony to the city’s breadth of cultural diasporic histories. You can find artist studios everywhere—from huge warehouses to small garages—within an art scene that is booming and not exclusively dependent on market trends.

Illustrations: Clay Hickson

Best studio visit in the city so far?

Every studio visit holds good memories. More recently, I remember with fondness Roksana Pirouzmand and our conversation about family, memory and diasporic experiences, which I could also relate to. Another was with Akinsanya Kambon. Each of his works is a testimony to anti-colonial struggles, and you can really spend hours at his studio.

You were the inaugural adjunct curator of First Nations and Indigenous art at Tate Modern, London. Is this a focus and expertise you are looking to carry over to your new role at the Hammer?

Yes, to an extent, but not exclusively. There is already great work on Indigenous art being done in the US. I would like to add to this conversation an understanding of indigeneity, from a perspective of the Global South. I also want to look deeper into my own history as a brown curator who grew up in Guatemala and to learn from and connect to the lives of Latinx artists in the US. The art world is moving in new directions—brown, Indigenous and Black artists are taking up unprecedented spaces in the international art scene, and I suspect LA is a good place to witness and contribute to these tectonic changes.

The Hammer is part of UCLA; how does being part of a university impact on the life of the museum?

I think universities have so much to teach museums. They have the infrastructure and flux of young energy that art institutions sometimes lack. They have the resources for academic research and the means to share and distribute knowledge that art institutions crave. I think the case of the Hammer has shown that such relationships can be fertile.

Illustrations: Clay Hickson

What are you working on for 2024?

I am organizing “Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s–1970s.” The show is curated by Kyung An and Kang Soojung, and has traveled from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. We are very excited to bring this important project to the Hammer (on view until May 12) and connect with the Korean diasporic communities. For the summer of 2025, I am working on an exhibition on new brown materialities, and spirituality. The show will aim to address the vitality and the agency of materials in art-making, from the perspective of diasporic and Indigenous practices throughout the continent.

What are you looking forward to in the art calendar in LA and beyond in 2024?

In LA, “Ed Ruscha/Now Then” at LACMA (April 7–October 6) is a long-awaited retrospective of a seminal figure in the local art scene. “Scratching at the Moon,” curated by Anna Sew Hoy at the Institute of Contemporary Art (until May 12), will bring together a powerful intergenerational group of Asian artists living here. Beyond the US, I am looking forward to the opening of the 24th Biennale of Sydney, “Ten Thousand Suns,” curated by Inti Guerrero and Cosmin Costinaş (March 9–June 10). It promises to be a carefully crafted exhibition of non-Western art. I am also excited to see what the new program at Gasworks in London will look like, with its new director Robert Leckie.

Illustrations: Clay Hickson

Where are your favorite places to eat?

There are so many! Mi Ranchito Veracruz in North Hollywood has amazing mole and chilaquiles. If in Koreatown, breakfast at the newly opened Taiwanese Liu’s Cafe, followed by the best oxtail soup at Han Bat Sul Lung Tang. If you find yourself craving art and food in San Fernando Valley, check out Judy Baca’s mural The Great Wall of Los Angeles (1975–ongoing), and then stop at Grandma’s Thai Kitchen for some delicious homemade food.

What are your favorite representations of LA in film, art and/or literature?

I think one of the best representations of LA in art is, of course, Watts Towers (1921–54). The title of the biennial we just presented at the Hammer was inspired by these magnificent dormant giants, which are a public monument to diasporic creativity. They speak to the history of South LA, and are deeply connected to social struggles in the city.

What is the mark of a true Angeleno?

Ask me again in ten years! Perhaps finding your way around town without Google Maps?

This article first appeared in Frieze Week Los Angeles 2024 under the title “Pablo José Ramírez (Still) Gets Lost.”

Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s–1970s” is on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA until 12 May 


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Main image: Pablo José Ramírez portrait, 2024. Courtesy: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; photograph: Lauren Randolph

Pablo José Ramírez is curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angles and co-curator of the Made in L.A. 2023: 'Acts of Living'. He was formerly the adjunct curator of First Nations and Indigenous art at Tate Modern. His work revisits post-colonial societies to consider race, indigeneity and forms of racial occlusion.