Hauser Wirth & Schimmel Takes the Museum-Quality Exhibition to the Next Level


Exterior view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joshua Targownik / targophoto.com.

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel: Changing the Contemporary Art Landscape

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the new outpost of international mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, opened last weekend in a restored flour mill in Downtown Los Angeles's Arts District, the latest in a slew of brand name galleries opening up shop on the West Coast. But unlike other new arrivals--Berlin and London-based Sprüth Magers opened a new gallery next to LACMA last month, New York galleries Maccarone and Venus Over Manhattan opened LA locations in the past year, and London-headquartered Ibid. Projects opened their Downtown LA space in 2014, to name a few--Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is more than a newer, bigger location for the gallery, it represents a paradigm shift of what a commercial gallery can be and do.

Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, Lee Bontecou, installation view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Courtesy the artists and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Brian Forrest.

The inaugural exhibition, "Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947 - 2016," curated by Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin, is a massive, museum-worthy affair. It traces a geographically wide-ranging yet chronological path through the works of key female sculptors, beginning with a stunning pantheon of post-war progenitors: Louise Bourgeois, Lee Bontecou, Louise Nevelson, Claire Falkenstein, and Ruth Asawa. In this first gallery, the restored 1917 administrative center of Globe Mills, Bontecou's audacious raw canvas, steel, and wire bas-relief constructions face off with Bourgeois's totemic and lanky Personage sculptures, all gracefully presided over by an awe-inspiring installation of Asawa's biomorphic hanging crocheted wire sculptures. These first works, which date from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, establish some of the tactics and motifs that will reappear throughout the exhibition: repetition, seriality, stacking, suturing, weaving, and the use of unconventional and experimental sculptural materials.

Jackie Winsor, 30 to 1 Bound Trees, 1971 - 1972, installation view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. © Jackie Winsor. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Brian Forrest.

The exhibition continues with material and process-driven works from the 1960s and 1970s, heralded by the imposing 30 to 1 Bound Trees (1971-72, 2016) by Jackie Winsor, a sculpture composed of white birch saplings bound in hemp rope, specially recreated for the exhibition, and situated in the center of the large outdoor courtyard around which the various galleries congregate. Works in fabric, rope, wire, aluminum, latex, leather, and paper by artists such as Sheila Hicks, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Lynda Benglis, Eva Hesse, Hannah Wilke, and Mira Schendel, emphasize physical presence and material form. Space and relativity become primary concerns in the works that follow, as the sculptures move from discrete objects to installation works that incorporate walls and corners, as in Lygia Pape's ethereal Ttéia 1, A (1978, 1997, 1999), made simply of golden thread strung between thin nails, illuminated by shafts of light. Sculptures in iron, concrete, and cement by Isa Genzken and Cristina Iglesias, from the late 1980s and early 1990s, exhibit a sense of interiority, inviting the viewer to peer into and through them, but resisting any total, all-encompassing view.

Lygia Pape, Ttéia 1, A, 1979 / 1997 / 1999, metallic nylon string, nails and light, 230 x 320 x 150 cm / 90 1/2 x 126 x 59 in © Lygia Pape. Collection Projeto Lygia Pape. Photo: Paula Pape.

The final gallery, devoted to works dating from 1988 or later, most of which were made in the last few years, erupts with color, craft, and unconventional materials. The space, which is the most unfinished-looking of the galleries, with exposed brick walls and rough wooden beams, accommodates a sprawling Phyllida Barlow installation exploding with colorful pompoms, Lara Schnitger's stretched nylon and fabric works, and a parade of candy colored plaster poles, raucously covered with cellophane by Karla Black. In these ultra contemporary works, the historical continuity of the exhibition falters slightly, as more curatorial risks are taken with artists that, understandably, haven't yet attained the level of significance of their predecessors. Yet, it is an inspiring lot, that, rather than displaying a constrained or conservative view, manages to point to even more possibilities forward in the field of abstract sculpture.

Phyllida Barlow, installation view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Courtesy the artists and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Brian Forrest.

"Revolution in the Making" does what many good museum exhibitions do: it draws new connections between works of historical significance; it revises and enhances our understanding of the evolving continuum of art history; it introduces new or lesser-known artists alongside those from the canon; it surprises as it edifies. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is hardly the first commercial gallery to mount a museum-quality exhibition (Blum & Poe's "Dansaekwha and Minimalism" exhibition is another recent, local example), but it is taking what is a relatively new phenomenon to a whole new level. In a practice notably spearheaded by Gagosian Gallery with its series of Picasso exhibitions curated by Picasso biographer John Richardson, commercial galleries looking to present a museum-caliber exhibition will enlist an expert curator or art historian for a single exhibition on a given artist or topic. The curator enjoys the benefits of the robust resources and often-unconstrained budget of the commercial gallery, while the gallery benefits from the prestige, new connections with collectors and museums, and other business opportunities. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel are taking this "Gagosian model," expanding on it and committing to it fully. Instead of coming in to curate a show or two, Paul Schimmel's name is on the building. As the former chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Schimmel brings scholarship, expertise, and myriad connections to the gallery, while Schimmel (after his unceremonious ousting from the museum during Jeffrey Deitch's tenure as Director) now has the space, time, and the resources to back his curatorial vision.

Cristina Iglesias (left) and Isa Genzken (right), installation view, 1947 - 2016', Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Courtesy the artists and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Brian Forrest.

In his address to the press before the opening, Schimmel called the new gallery "the Arts District's first art center." While it is undoubtedly a commercial business, the gallery will function in many ways like a museum or kunsthalle, at least in the eyes of the visiting public. As museum admission fees rise (even the nearby Broad, with its much-touted gratis entry, will charge $12 for its upcoming Cindy Sherman retrospective), an increasingly sophisticated public is taking advantage of commercial galleries as a free place to experience art, and Hauser Wirth & Schimmel recognize that most of the people who will pass through their doors will be artists and other creatives from the neighborhood, who "are not here to shop," in Schimmel's words. And owing to Hauser & Wirth's international collector base, their "art center" outpost in Los Angeles won't have to rely on the foot traffic of local collectors.

Lara Schnitger, installation view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Brian Forrest.

While Iwan Wirth describes the heart of the Hauser & Wirth enterprise as "a family business," it's no denying the gallery has considerable resources at its disposal. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is its sixth location, joining galleries in Zürich, London, and New York, where it has plans for a huge new gallery in Chelsea. These resources allow for projects, like the new Los Angeles gallery as well as its art center and sculpture park in rural England, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, that can invest in the kind of long curatorial projects, education, and public enrichment traditionally found in the domain of museums. In the rapidly changing landscape for contemporary art, whether this new hybrid commercial-curatorial model will prove successful in the long-term remains to be seen. Yet for now it seems everyone wins: the curators, the galleries, and the public.

Eva Hesse, Aught (wall), Augment (floor), 1968, installation view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Aught: Collection of University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Augment: Private Collection. Photo: Brian Forrest.

--Natalie Hegert