Arts + Culture Weekend of gala events marks a new era for this hub of the arts Arts + Culture Weekend of gala events marks a new era for this hub of the arts March 29, 2023 The Hammer Museum at UCLA has unveiled the two-decades-in-the-making transformation of its physical spaces. The changes to the museum further establish it as a true hub for seeing, learning and gathering in Los Angeles.
The Hammer now stretches the length of the entire block of Wilshire Boulevard between Westwood Boulevard and Glendon Avenue, with street-level exhibition space visible from the outside and anchored by the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Cultural Center.
Designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, these spaces include an expansive lobby, which will hold a series of site-specific installations; a new 5,600-square-foot gallery; and an outdoor sculpture terrace.
In a press preview leading up to the public opening, Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin thanked the staff, donors and supporters who made the transformation possible, particularly the Resnicks, whose $30 million donation in 2018 was the largest in the museum’s history.
"Michael [Maltzan] and I have been working on the museum inside and out almost from the day I arrived," Philbin said. "We shared a vision of the Hammer Museum as a major civic and urban presence in the city that is supportive of its growth, diversity and progress."
At a special preview for museum members and donors, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block credited Philbin for her central role in making UCLA and Westwood Village an arts destination since her arrival in 1999.
"Quite simply, she built it into a world-class institution," Block said. "She developed new focus areas in contemporary art and Southern California art. She made the Hammer the leading exhibition space for emerging artists in our region — and, arguably, in the entire country. She created new public programs and deepened our connections to the L.A. arts community. And she encouraged the museum and its curators to face and grapple with the most complex and thorny issues of the day."
On opening weekend, March 25 and 26, visitors arrived through the building’s new entrance, at the corner of Wilshire and Westwood boulevards. Then they wove through an audacious labyrinth of red string cobwebbing throughout the new lobby, pausing to photograph themselves against the striking work by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota. The labyrinth, which uses 800 pounds of yarn, took three weeks to install, with help from Hammer staff and local artists. It will be on view through Aug. 27.
At the museum’s east end, a 25-foot-tall cast bronze sculpture titled "Oracle" is the first to occupy a new outdoor presentation space; it will remain there for at least a year. The work’s creator, Los Angeles native Sanford Biggers, said the opportunity to show the sculpture at the Hammer was a dream come true.
"I was born and raised here and probably passed through this intersection hundreds if not thousands of times," he said. "I used to hang out in Westwood in high school."
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images Biggers’ piece, originally presented at New York’s Rockefeller Center, is inspired by his love of sci-fi and the history of the mysterious and unseen largely female oracles of Greek mythology. Biggers is looking forward to seeing how Los Angeles audiences engage with the work — they can bring offerings to the Oracle, and Biggers and Hammer staff hope to program interactive moments enabling audiences to ask questions of the sculpture.
Just inside, a third large-scale presentation takes up a purposefully unfinished and oddly reverent space amid the corporate ruin of a former bank. Rita McBride’s "Particulates" is a whirling display of green lasers, creating what the artist said she hopes is a "hermetic and meditative experience" that will be in visual conversation with the trees and passersby outside.
Meanwhile, in the renewed upstairs gallery spaces, "Together in Time" is the largest-ever exhibition from the Hammer’s permanent collection. Chief curator Connie Butler said many local artists are represented, including some from previous "Made in L.A." and Hammer Projects presentations.
The renewed spaces follow other transformative projects at the Hammer, including the creation of the Billy Wilder Theater in 2006, fostering an ongoing collaboration with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and the construction of the John V. Tunney Bridge above the courtyard, which was completed in 2015 and helped reinvent how visitors navigate the museum.
During the opening celebration, hundreds of Hammer members and donors wandered through the galleries to view other current exhibitions, including "Cruel Youth Diary," a collection of photographs depicting the rapid modernization of Chinese cities in the late ’80s, and "Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio," highlighting one of the progenitors of op art.
DJ Pee.Wee, aka Anderson.Paak, the Grammy-winning rapper, producer and R&B artist, set the tone for the evening early, telling the crowd: "I’m not wasting any of these songs, so you better dance, Hammer Museum." By the end of the evening, he had split the group into a joyous "Soul Train" line.
Michael Maltzan, the renovation’s lead architect, recalled an anxious meeting he had nearly two decades ago with the building’s original architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes, at which Maltzan shared many of the changes that were planned.
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say that he understood and approved," Maltzan said. "He said if a building function changes, the form needs to change, too."