The most comprehensive retrospective the prolific Los Angeles painter and long-revered teacher.
Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence is the most comprehensive retrospective in 20 years of the work of the American artist Lari Pittman. As both a prolific painter and a long-revered teacher, the Los Angeles–based artist is a strong presence in both the local art community and the international sphere. Pittman's work has been featured in important exhibitions such as Documenta (1997), the Venice Biennale (2003), and the Whitney Biennial (1993, 1995), as well as in major survey exhibitions of Los Angeles and American art in both the United States and Europe. This exhibition will include approximately 80 paintings and 50 works on paper drawn from the Hammer’s own holdings as well as from public and private collections throughout the world.
From his earliest experiments with collage and decoration during his formative years at California Institute of the Arts, to the iconic paintings produced in response to the AIDS crisis and culture wars of the 1990s, to his present philosophical investigations into the history-telling of textiles, Pittman’s works have remained some of the most prescient and influential of any artist since the 1980s. His highly detailed works on panel and paper—grand tales about love, sex, death, art, and citizenship—feature a rich visual language that he has developed over the course of his four-decade career, replete with owls, Victorian silhouettes, flying text, and exaggerated and sexualized bodies. These meticulously crafted works have become emblematic of a generation of Los Angeles artists who reclaimed ornamentation and lush detail during the 1980s, employing them as part of their political and personal iconography. At the same time Pittman shared the noirish sensibilities of many of his peers whose influences included that era’s thriving punk rock scene and the legendary Feminist Art Program at CalArts. In 1992 his work was featured in the critically acclaimed exhibition Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s, along with that of Mike Kelley, Liz Larner, Raymond Pettibon, Jim Shaw, and others. Pittman’s blend of densely painted surfaces and codified references to sexuality and other charged topics, such as the history of racial violence in the United States, aligned his works with the discourse surrounding the contested body in the early 1990s.
In recent years Pittman has moved inward, depicting memories, his own thought process, and a diverse group of artistic influences. These paintings function as rich dreamscapes and provide insight into the artist’s psyche. Key figures from art history are juxtaposed with references to production—represented as birds, babies, vulvas, thought bubbles, and other points of origin. His painted surfaces have become smoother, accentuating the synthetic quality of the works and showcasing the artist’s mastery of the medium. Among these recent works on view will be Pittman’s cycle of mural-scale paintings titled Flying Carpets (2013).
Pittman generally works alone in the studio and has described painting as a physical activity that involves his entire body. His paintings are created without preliminary sketches, and their large scale mirrors the outsized, complex, and even mythic ideas that inform them. In contrast, his works on paper are more intimate and graphic, featuring fewer objects and a more pronounced flattening of illusionistic space. Still lushly colored and decorated, they offer a quieter counterpart to his paintings. A selection of these drawings spanning Pittman’s career will comprise Orangerie, a stand-alone installation that provides an intimate space for viewing his works on paper.