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On Exhibit: Crash Course


By Janet Eastman

Published Oct 1, 2009 8:00 AM


One of Nic Hess' masking-tape masterpieces. Photos by Josh White.

Nic Hess' intriguing masking-tape mural that spans the Hammer Museum lobby uses a wall-size pig in a shopping cart butting up again a series of crowd-control barricades to boldly comment on consumerism and the current state of the economy.

Need extra motivation to see it?

How about that once the "Automatic Crash Response" exhibit is gone on Nov. 5, it's gone. The hundreds of yards of masking tape will be pulled off. The few drawings peeled away. The remains of dozens of mini human figures falling into a pile above the exit sign white washed.


Oh, sure. You can always see it in photos. But they don't do it justice. You need to be dwarfed by it, to experience the physical aspect of the work. To let your eyes follow the lines, past the rough tracing of a smooth-talking gecko, down to the images of sinking financial institutions, up the outlined elevator and across to the Postal Service eagle poking into a sleek office with a black-and-white view of the mountains. Underneath: windows framing the real Wilshire Boulevard.

So, go. Now. The work, designed with industrial materials to specifically envelop the walls, corners, ceilings, hidden spots and spillover spaces of the idealized lobby, is chockfull of thought provokers. Why is there a silhouette of a water skier zipping past a pensive chimp?

The Swiss artist gives few clues. With prodding, he says there are "roughly" four chapters but also a "random aspect."

"There are hidden details," confesses Hess, who has been luring and baffling viewers for a decade with his site-specific drawing installations. "It's like a puzzle and once people have figured it out, I am gone."

Hess' approach to his work is fast and spontaneous. He can easily pull up tape to adjust a line. That his finished art, too, is fleeting adds to its impact. "'Temporary,'" he says, "can have the meaning of 'experimental.' That is powerful."

Hammer Projects: Nic Hess. Hammer Museum. Through Nov. 5, 2009. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; Thursdays, 11 a.m.– 9 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Museum admission: $7; $5 (seniors 65+, UCLA Alumni Association members); free (museum members, students with ID, UCLA faculty/staff, visitors 17 and under accompanied by an adult). Free on Thursdays for all visitors. For more information, call (310) 443-7000 or visit