Hammer Unveils Marx Collection

In July 2007 Colorado collectors Susan and Larry Marx promised the cream of their contemporary drawing collection to the UCLA Hammer Museum. The trove is now on view in “Intimate Immensity: The Susan and Larry Marx Collection.” Greatly expanded since the original announcement, the Marx gift surpasses even Marcia Weisman’s revered collection of 83 works on paper, bequeathed to MOCA in 1996.

Susan Marx is a director of the Aspen Art Museum, and Larry is an investment fund manager turned real estate developer. Their promised gift was seen as a way of bridging the Hammer’s multiple personalities: Armand Hammer’s vanity museum; UCLA’s old-school university print room; and the then-new Hammer Contemporary Collection. That 2005 initiative was originally pitched as a collection of works on paper by emerging California artists, created in the past decade.

To that the Marxes pledged a blue-chip survey of mostly East Coast abstraction, 1950s to 1970s. “Intimate Immensity” begins with a room of magisterial drawings by Gorky, Pollock (left, a 1951 drip drawing), de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, David Smith, and Mark Tobey. All are satisfying museum pieces, and many are colorful watercolor or oil paintings on paper. There are three de Kooning women(!), two in oil on paper, and each perfect in its way.

I’m not even counting the best de Kooning of all, Asheville #1 (top of post), which is probably of the abstract female persuasion too. It’s a small oil drawing created in 1948, during de Kooning’s teaching stint at Black Mountain College and a few years after the Weisman Art Foundation’s breakout Pink Angels.

All the works on view are promised to the museum, and every artist and work is a smart, relevant choice. (There aren’t many single-collection shows for which you can make those two claims.) The original 70 pieces in the Marx gift are now more than doubled to over 150, including relatively more paintings. The Marxes have gone global and paid more attention to the West Coast—from John McLaughlin to Mark Bradford, both represented with major works. (Above is Bradford’s 2007 collage Smite, set to become the Hammer’s second big Bradford.)

There are multiple works in various media by Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenberg,  Yayoi Kusama, and Ed Ruscha; good, smallish canvases by Joan MitchellSam Francis and Cy Twombly; a big, fantastic early painting by Eva Hesse. A vertical black-and-white Blinky Palermo from 1966 (left) calls an East Coast-West Coast truce between Ellsworth Kelly and John McLaughlin.

The installation culminates in a giddy, salon-style hang of A-list figurativish sheets that demonstrate just how clever and adventurous the collection is. The salon wall juxtaposes everyone from Carroll Dunham to Sigmar Polke to Charles Ray to Mark Grotjahn. Andy Warhol is represented with a suite of cat drawings in his most prissy early commercial style. For pure and premeditated prissy, it would be difficult to top John Currin’s The Bachelor (1995, before it was a reality show).

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