When Contemporary Art Feels Too Inaccessible – Some artists seem to negate any attempt at communication with the viewer, and pass on the inconvenient responsibility of generating some coherent meaning to curators.

HyperAllergic | Ksenya Gurshtein

The question that nagged at me as I walked through the Hammer Museum’s exhibition Stories of Almost Everyone was: “What is this stuff?!” If at many shows of contemporary art this question remains a quiet hum buzzing in the back of your mind, at this exhibition it becomes piercing and urgent. The show’s self-proclaimed aim is to examine “the relationships between material objects and the stories we tell about them.” The first sentence of the exhibition’s introductory text informs you upfront that it “privileges the narratives that accompany objects.” At other exhibitions, one turns to didactic texts with a feeling of quiet inadequacy to make heads or tails of an inscrutable object, moving towards the wall label like a floundering person swimming to shore. Here, the indispensability and, indeed, the primacy of the verbal supplement pokes you like a stick in the eye, though the show ultimately does more to celebrate than critically examine curatorial mediation as a crutch for artists and visitors alike.

Curator Aram Moshayedi, together with curatorial assistant Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi, gathered an impressive array of objects which are mysterious by virtue of their utter mundaneness — there is a broom standing upright in the middle of the gallery, a pair of checkered socks strewn casually on the floor, a mail box, a trash bin, and an oversized Christmas ornament dangling from the ceiling. The show sets out to explore how artists, curators, and institutions go about giving meaning to these reticent readymades, but remains neutral in evaluating the artistic trend on which it puts its finger. It does, however, acknowledge the art’s inaccessibility in a wryly hilarious “promotional” video made with actors Will Ferrell and Joel McHale. Perhaps Ferrell’s statement, “I’m warming up to it, but ultimately, no!”, would have been a more apt title for the show…read more

Image: Stories of Almost Everyone, installation view, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (photo by Joshua White)