Give You So Much More: Jim Hodges at the Hammer Museum
Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take at the Hammer Museum
October 3, 2014 to January 18th, 2015
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, 310 443 7000
Queer artists in the late 1980s such as David Wojnarowicz, Gregg Bordowitz and members of the collective Gran Fury employed directive text and images as a means of addressing AIDS, its representation, and the concomitant cultural crisis in the United States. The work of artist Jim Hodges, in contrast, limns the line between the evocative and the sublime, employing minimalist forms in line with what has been recently referred to as “queer formalism:” work that turns away from aesthetics typically associated with “activist” art in favor of coded political motivations as a means of resisting censorship. Hodges’s palpable earnestness is reinforced by the lack of didactic wall texts at his ambitious retrospective, currently on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The original iteration of “Give More Than You Take” was co-organized by Olga Viso, from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and Jeffrey Grove, from the Dallas Museum of Art. Hammer Museum director Connie Butler organized the show’s third stop in LA, alongside curator Aram Moshaedi. Artists Julie Ault and Martin Beck were brought on as consultants to aid in the show’s reconceptualization at the Hammer, for an exhibition featuring 75 pieces realized between 1987 to present. Notably, the curators in LA reserve ample space between artworks, allowing the viewer to experience each installation individually, and draw connections between the evocative pieces and their own experiences. This notion of correspondence — either between individuals, politics or objects — is central to Hodges’s work, for which he employs delicate silk flowers, gold leaf, broken mirrors and tenuous chains, to speak to issues as varied as mortality, artifice, and the interrelation of our myriad selves.
In circles attuned to queer art and politics, Hodges is often referred to alongside the late Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres as employing the language of queer formalism. Hodges was close friends with Gonzalez-Torres, and, according to Walker director Olga Viso, produced a number of works in his memory on the day of the artist’s death from AIDS in 1996. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Hammer Museum will screen a number of Hodges’s films, including Untitled (2011), produced with collaborators Carlos Marques da Cruz and Encke King. The 60-minute film, made in honor of Gonzalez-Torres, uses archival material to showcase injustices throughout history. While the film pays special attention to the politics and activism surrounding AIDS in the 1980s, it goes as far back as WWII to point to ideological abuses of power in the face of cultural crises. Hodges writes of the film:
We have people in power who are disrespectful, who are prejudiced, who don’t see, who refuse to acknowledge an aspect of the society at large because of their ideological position. They won’t allow themselves to see the humanness that’s there. This is the problem that I see: this continuation — and the continuum — where the powers deny the humanness of the other.
This focus on “humanness” is central to Hodges’s delicate artworks at the Hammer, which emphasize the phenomenological effects of our own physicality. Hodges presses upon the experience of interacting with other (often anonymous) bodies in space as a means of gesturing towards a shift in the cultural understanding of the body after AIDS. His 1997 work You features thousands of silk and polyester flowers, petals and leaves stitched together to form a 30-foot-tall curtain. The installation is designed to be exhibited in the center of the gallery so as to allow viewers to walk around it on all sides, letting them catch short glimpses of one another — fluttering fingers, a tuft of hair, a flash of skin — through the work’s small interstices. Later that year Hodges produced Changing Things, which deconstructs the curtain of flora found in You as a means of recognizing each one of its disparate parts, pinning each silk flower, petal and leaf, like specimens for study. Here, the viewer experiences Hodges’ materials in the visual language of taxonomy, laying bare the slipperiness between notions of the authentic versus the fabricated, the natural versus the constructed.
Hodges is deeply interested in the effects of layering and fragmenting, and the relationship between exposing and concealing. Often described as “poetic,” it serves to mention that much of his work is markedly feminine, itself a queer aesthetic device when recognized in tandem with the works’ seriousness. For Landscape (1998), the artist places 15 boys’ and men’s shirts in successive sizes, one inside the other, to create a series of concentric collars in different colors and patterns. The outermost shirt is a buttoned-up white oxford, alluding to the disparity between our innermost and outermost selves. Hodges’s ambitious installation And Still This (2005-08) takes on similar themes of transformation over time. The work consists of a series of 10 body-sized gessoed canvases overlaid with gold leaf and arranged upright in a circle. The viewer steps into the installation via a small opening between two canvases, forcing her to confront the rarely-seen wooden stretchers as she makes her way inside the configuration of paintings. Once inside, the viewer encounters a carefully designed modern day creation myth in an abstract narrative designed to be read from left to right. This relation between interior and exterior highlights the artist’s own experience during the AIDS crisis, when revealing details about one’s self — whether one’s HIV status or sexuality — was highly politicized.
Chain-link spider webs are a recurrent theme in the artist’s 25-year oeuvre, beginning in 1991 with Untitled (Gate), a human-scale installation made of steel, copper, aluminum and brass chain. From a distance the work connotes both neglect and interdiction, though closer inspection reveals that the innermost chains are constructed of delicate girls’ charm bracelets. For What’s Left (1992) the artist has constructed a still life of rumpled jeans, a t-shirt, belt and tennis shoes overlaid with a sparking chain-link web. The installation alludes to clothes left on the bed or bathroom floor, perhaps belonging to a lover whose body has since disappeared. Hodges produced this work in New York City at the height of AIDS, again, shying away from the overtly political works that were rallied against, or worse, censored by the religious right and conservative museum structures.
Perhaps the most arresting piece in “Give More Than You Take” is Hodges’s 2008 work The Dark Gate. The viewer is invited to enter a small wooden chamber nestled in the pitch-black gallery through a pair of swinging doors. Inside, the artist has created an oculus lined in razor spikes, or, perhaps, an image of a sunburst left in reserve. The bright spot in the center again reinforces the artist’s inquiry into relativity: is the darkness encroaching or receding? The fragrance of Hodges’s mother’s favorite perfume, Shalimar, permeates the chamber, which also contains notes of the cologne Hodges himself wore at the time of her passing. In this evocative installation Hodges references danger, hope, violence, death and birth. The small dwelling is deeply personal but utterly social, a successful metaphor for his prolific 25-year career.