On ViewHollyhock House
February 15–June 24, 2023
Barnsdall Art Park perches atop Olive Hill, overlooking the flats of East Hollywood and the hills of Los Feliz. Anchored by the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House and Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG)—the latter, established in 1954, has long exhibited art but is currently on hiatus—Barnsdall was donated to Los Angeles in 1927 by its patron, Aline Barnsdall. An American oil heiress, Barnsdall commissioned Wright to design a 36-acre arts complex (only partly realized), which he attempted to do from Japan while working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. They had a falling out in 1921, seemingly the consequence of her ever-shifting plans and cost overages; in any case, she did move into the house in 1922, seeking the assistance of Rudolph Schindler and Lloyd Wright, among others, to complete the project amidst her own activities, including fundraising for the Hollywood Bowl. To see the structure is to understand the ambition of the architecture but also the miscalculations of its layout relative to the exigencies of its place. An imposing Mayan Revival façade encases a courtyard. Rooms open to the exterior, yet so, too, does the outside rather literally leak in: water was given to overtaking the central lawn and seeping into the living room in a super-abundance beyond the calculated flow (it was meant to channel from a pool through a tunnel into an inside basin, and back out to a fountain). Cantilevered concrete wasn’t ideal for earthquakes, either.
Following multiple renovation campaigns, in 2019 the Hollyhock House appeared on the UNESCO World Heritage List; a one-time headquarters for the California Art Club after Barnsdall’s residence, it now lives as a house museum. In what is a first for the space, Hollyhock House curator Abbey Chamberlain Brach has organized a site-specific intervention with paintings by Louise Bonnet nestling work into the home’s recesses and ceramics by Adam Silverman set on the dining room table and various plinths uncannily anticipating display. Entanglements—a nod to Barnsdall and Wright as well as the interlaced part-objects populating Bonnet’s compositions and Silverman’s composite vessels—likewise proves the couple’s first formal collaboration, which is surprising given the ease with which their work lives together in these rooms. One especially strong pairing, in sight of a central axis, is Hollyhock Gold (2022), a large oil on linen painting resting on a wooden armature set flush to the wall, placed in the company of one of Silverman’s sculptural stoneware pieces cloaked in richly textured glazes. Entangled (Reading Room) (2022) features two bulbous receptacles falling—or maybe having grown into—each other, apparently fused at the midline. Meanwhile, the large-scale Hollyhock Gold fills the vestibule with a related meditation on conditions of propping and being held. As with much of Bonnet’s surrealist-inflected work that naturalizes impossible contortions, two severed hands clasp, creating a visually interwoven mass of waxy, rose-tinged grey flesh.
Bonnet and Silverman worked from 1920s photographs, which showed how Barnsdall inhabited these chambers, and also what art once alighted there: ceramics, iridescent glass, and many objects from China and Japan that Wright funneled to Barnsdall (sometimes directly selling them to her). Conspicuous in its absence is a gilded six-panel Edo-period screen crossed with pheasants and a cherry tree in bloom—savvily replenished by Hollyhock Gold. Silverman’s firing techniques also reference these prior material occupants, notably in his firing techniques. In this instance, he used wood from the nearby, century-old olive grove as an additive, together with clay, seaweed, driftwood, coral, salt, and shells sourced from the Pacific coast. Two vertical Tide Jars (one from 2022 and the other 2023) alternately scored and swollen, rigid beneath hardened drips, stand as sentinels framing the now-empty moat, and direct a view—further framed by the fracturing geometries of leaded glass—into the yard and city beyond. For two Cosmos Jars (both 2023), twin cones point to the triangular pattern on the large bas-relief hearth similarly absent the fire that would have flickered against the reflecting pool when filled. In the pergola and study, Bonnet’s Hollyhock Green (2022), another oil on canvas, and comparatively diminutive colored pencil drawing, Untitled (2023), anchor the scenography with more iterations of braided hands. Those in the drawing clinch what appears to be a shard of torn paper, maybe something like a bill. Bonnet has related these to Holbein’s domestic portraits with sitters holding similar attributes, but also to Barnsdall and Wright who sued each other in turn. Back outside, one notes the profusion of floral ornamentation inspired by the namesake hollyhock and its tall, flowering spikes, which are ordinarily short-lived. Not so here.