Idiots, Thinkers and Tents: Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles Digs Into the Creations of Guillermo Kuitca and David Hammons

David Hammons’ show is his first L.A. exhibition in 45 years. It includes a collection of tents erected in the complex’s outdoor spaces.

It’s raining on a morning in late May, and water runs down a series of colorful tents that are part of an exhibit by the American artist David Hammons. Inside, on a canvas mounted on a wall, is Argentine painter Guillermo Kuitca’s image of empty seats. The sense of desolation and isolation is clear.

The pieces are part of a pair of contrasting summer exhibits at the Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles gallery in the Arts District The eponymous shows David Hammons and Guillermo Kuitca both play with medium and form, and each challenges the viewer to interpret the works on display. The exhibitions are up through Aug. 11.

Kuitca’s show comes with a sharp focus. Located in the south gallery, it is mostly built around a trio of series he created over a two-year period. The most recent is “The Family Idiot,” a set of 13 identically named paintings that draw inspiration from Jean-Paul Sartre’s three-volume book of the same name.

Kuitca frequently works in geometric patterns, and some of the pieces at Hauser & Wirth take that approach, but in “The Family Idiot” he opts for a mix of heavy, atmospheric colors and reoccurring patterns of chairs and beds, often in desolate spaces. The works recall barren stages.

Other paintings appear to feature reflected elements on asymmetrical backgrounds, with stools and tables standing parallel to each other, separated by a panel or a dividing line within the painting.

“It’s almost a mirror, but not quite,” Kuitca told visitors during a media preview.

One piece in the center of the exhibition predates “The Family Idiot” by six years but shares many motifs. “Double Eclipse” is a dark and massive painting, with two eclipsed suns illuminating a sea of chairs and beds that appear to have washed up in a heap.

The centerpiece of Guillermo Kuitca is “The Missing Pieces,” an 18-panel set of oil paintings arranged like a book layout. Created in 2018, it riffs on book creation and how the format can create unexpected images.

Kuitca works in a range of styles and was influenced by maps and theater layout, according to gallery Senior Director Stacen Berg. The exhibit touches on that, with a series of mixed-media depictions of famous concert venues that Kuitca created within the last two years. The colorful works show slightly abstract seating maps of places such as the Sydney Opera House and the Hollywood Bowl. The latter is a frenetic blend of black, green and blue, with splotches and dots dripped on the exterior.

The different series and styles are not unusual for Kuitca, Berg said. He added that the artist goes through phases with his work, sometimes returning to ideas, but evolving his style along the way.

One piece in the show doesn’t fit with the others. The “Retablo,” located in an upstairs loft, is a kind of open wooden box, painted on the inner panels and illuminated from within. There’s a bench in front, allowing visitors to sit and take in all of the detail. Here the work is even more abstract, a mess of colors and reflected symbols.

To complement the exhibition, Hauser & Wirth is holding a trio of special events, a mix of discussions and performances. The first, on Saturday, June 8, is a panel talk that looks at Kuitca’s output through an architectural lens. On June 13, theatrical group the Actors’ Gang does a staged reading of Sartre’s “No Exit.”

Harmolodic Thinker

David Hammons is a large exhibition, spanning the north and east galleries, as well as the complex’s courtyard and walkway. The pieces on display speak to the artist’s interest in working in multiple and diverse media.

Hammons gained prominence with civil rights-focused pieces in the 1960s and ’70s, and for a time he was based in Los Angeles. Today he lives in New York City. The Arts District show is his first local exhibition in 45 years.

The sprawling collection of works is dedicated to jazz musician Ornette Coleman, who passed away in 2015. The phrase that Hammons includes, “harmolodic thinker,” comes from a funeral booklet for the musician who died in 2015. It references Coleman’s term for the mix of jazz and R&B he played.

The show focuses on recent pieces, but some historic work is included, according to Marc Payot, vice president and partner with the gallery.

The works range from tiny sketches to massive installations. None have names and they are organized without any clear pattern or theme. For example, a seemingly random collection of books is stacked on scales placed on stands in one section of the gallery. Spaced throughout the north gallery is a series of paintings, though they are partially or mostly covered, in some cases by a tarp, and in others with hanging cloth and butcher paper.

There are photos, sculptures, installations and paintings throughout the complex.

“[A theme] is a really tough one with him,” Berg said. “He really defies explanation and kind of doesn’t engage in too much interpretation of the work. I think that by giving us Ornette Coleman as the kind of inspiration of this show, that is maybe the best reference point.”

The most striking component is also the exhibition’s largest — it’s the bright orange and blue tents cluttered together in the courtyard and walkway. A handful of the shelters have “This could be u” stenciled onto their side. It appears to link the art show to the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, though Hammons’ intent is always uncertain.

Not everything is bleak, and in some instances the artist’s sense of humor comes across. In one portion of the gallery, amid a collection of unframed works, Hammons has scrawled multiple phrases in pencil on gallery walls. One reads, simply, “It’s been done before.”

Guillermo Kuitca and David Hammons run through Aug. 11 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 901 E. Third St. or hauserwirth.com.

nicholas@downtownnews.com