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When the Hammer Museum opened in November 1990, it was a rich man’s gallery. Built by former chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corporation Armand Hammer, it was filled with old-master paintings and drawings, and collections of works on paper by artists like Honore Daumier. Just three weeks after its opening (and before all construction had been completed), Hammer died and the museum closed its doors. It remained that way until 1994, when UCLA formed a partnership with the museum and relocated its Wight Art Gallery and the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts there.
Today, the Hammer is a glittering, rising star on the global cultural scene, an institution prized as a hub for Los Angeles’ creative community, and ground zero for startlingly original, fascinating and diverse programs and exhibitions. The museum’s success is due in part to the efforts of current director Ann Philbin, who infused the space with a new vitality. In her first year, she initiated Hammer Projects, an exhibition series dedicated to emerging artists, signaling to Los Angeles and to the world that something new was happening.
“When I arrived in Los Angeles, there really wasn’t a museum that was regularly paying attention to the city’s thriving emerging artistic community, so it seemed like a niche that needed filling,” says Philbin.
Philbin reimagined what was possible for the Hammer, and under her direction its exhibitions have included the Masters of American Comics, a large-scale body of work by 15 artists who shaped the development of the American comic strip and comic books during the past century; THING, a broad selection of innovative contemporary sculptures by 20 L.A.-based artists; and Made in L.A., a biennial show featuring under-recognized and emerging artists. And each summer, concert series spotlighting edgy and buzzy local bands attract crowds of all ages, who fill the courtyard and the galleries alike.
“The Hammer has become a real community cultural center for the West side of Los Angeles, a place where people can gather to engage with the arts, literature, music and ideas, and dialogue about current events and pressing issues,” says Philbin. “That is not an easy thing to pull off in a city like L.A.”
In its role as a cultural center, the Hammer Museum also offers a rich variety of public programs such as lectures, symposia, film series, readings and musical performances.
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