Most striking upon first entering the rather intimate space of LA’s Smart Objects is the bright orange-red carpet which now covers the customary gallery-white walls. As part of the LA-based artist Ann Hirsch’s Dr. Guttman’s Office, running October 23 to November 27, the cube is subverted and we’re off to a great start. This is a show that bends perceptions of time, maturity and femininity, as much as it does the art space. The press release describes an experience in childhood psychology and the show itself depicts the transition from the unaware preteen into the self-aware adult artist.
By blending these two personae together we get a successful amalgam of uninhibited creation and hyper-aware, selfie-culture works. The carpet emphasizes this warped reality of drawing the way through their inner child, as the viewer faces the wall-as-pile-floor-covering, evoking a feeling of being belly-down while standing up in a psychologist’s office. The shade of the carpet, too, is a vibrant blood orange. It feels nostalgic and evokes a simultaneous feeling of crawling through the entrails of the artist’s past.
Hirsch seems to hold nothing back as she invites the viewer into her mentally and physically intimate spaces. The press release takes the form of a narrative that draws us in immediately and offers supplementary context for where the work has come from and where it could go. The show consists of recent video pieces and pencil portraits alongside large-scale reproductions of drawings made during the artist’s sessions with psychologist Dr. Guttman during childhood. The exhibition title alludes to this private region inside the doctor’s office, but could easily be taken as a metaphor for being inside the most secluded depths of the artist’s process of growth and self-awareness.
The curatorial set-up of Dr. Guttman’s Office compliments Smart Object’s limited wall space and carefully guides the viewer between the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of Hirsch’s work. A semi-freestanding column is installed in the center of the smaller second room. Four video monitors are built in, flush with the carpeted walls. These films present the classic moral dilemmas and experiences of being a woman and being an artist. In ‘conclusion: the real ann hirsch’, through several video diary entries, Hirsch considers the simultaneously empowering and competitive nature of making art around her feminism and femininity. This process is illustrated as Hirsch cuts between clips of her expressing her anxiety over putting her vagina on the internet, to being naked on camera and rationalizing, “the older I get the the more I realize I’m not gonna look this good for much longer, so I might as well get naked now”. In one clip she explains that art between feminists is about “seeing who can be the most honest, or self-aware and boundary-pushing”. She ends by adding, “I just have to pull out all the stops in an honest way, in a real way”.
Hirsch succeeds in bringing together works made in a number of periods of her life and levels of awareness, ultimately creating a reflection on the identity of the artist not often seen or explored. The progression between her repetitive childhood drawings of women to her more fantastical and androgynous portraits and self-aware video pieces, is immediately engrossing as the viewer plays voyeur. At the same time, Inside Dr. Guttman’s Office quickly falls into the realm of the relatable and the profound, as we find ourselves reflecting on the changes in our own lives, from childhood till now. **
Exhibition photos, top right.