The Hammer Box of Art

We went to the Hammer Museum yesterday. It’s yet another L.A. art spot. You can go there, too, if you feel like it. But you have to go just north of Wilshire Blvd and about half a mile east of the 405 Freeway, because that’s where it is.

Portrait of Edith Crowe by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1874Armand Hammer, a happy rich guy and art buyer and friend of Kruschev, has laid his collection of paintings and drawings before the feet of the public in the museum named after him. The collection — in which you will find treats from Rembrandt, Sgt. John Singer, Vuillard, Redon, Vincent “Van” Gogh, Gustave Moreau, Manet (“I am not Monet”), Monet (“I am not Manet”), Rubens, Eakins, Renoir and, gosh, the whole gang — reflects the collector’s outgoing personality. Lots of charm on display in the portion of the Hammer Museum wherein Mr. Hammer’s purchases are hung.

The dome visible through the window is a restaurant where you can purchase, among other entrees, a paper cup of crispy shrimp.Unfortunately, Mr. Hammer left his bequest to UCLA. The dead hand of Institution of Higher Education is everywhere evident in the museum, from the cold austere exterior, to the boxy, loveless central wasteland of an atrium. The employees of the Hammer have perfected that impersonal mien just one tiny angstrom beyond rude that brought back fond memories of the collectivist (“If we do it for you we have to do it for everybody”) spirit of college deans.

Fred and the mother of his three sons.Armand Hammer bought art because he loved it. You feel it in the two or three galleries that keep his personality carefully quarantined from the rest of the building. Quarantined? Well we can’t hide them altogether — he paid the bill, after all — but, we wouldn’t want to infect Academe with something as uncontrollable as humanity, now would we?

What — besides howling winds and shrivelled bamboo — fills that massive pale cube? Art-school rubbish: irony, safely transgressive boredom, stale food, empty paper cups, political correctness, multi-culti detritus, dust, despair, nullity. Also some backlit panels from Billy Wilder movies. To the left we see Barbara Stanwyck corrupting the young, impressionable Fred MacMurray.

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