Joan Didion: What She Means @ Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The conversation between artists has long fascinated us. As critics or writers, or an insightful reader and viewer, we tend to find meaning in a creative output that is not transitory; what I mean is we take in the art and sometimes forget to openly give something back to its original owner or idea. I was struck at the end of 2021 when the acclaimed writer Joan Didion passed away that there was so much conversation as to what she meant by her words, that it was almost as if we had never considered her profound words in the first place. It was almost if we were reading her for the first time all over again. And, at the same time, her passing reminded us of the non-linear and non-literal connections we can make in life, that we can find meaning in disparate ideas and practices. Didion may have often spoke of the West, but in those words, there was a conversation about freedom, space and change.
The Hammer Museum, located in the place we long connected Didion, Los Angeles, considered Didion's life of words and found conversations amongst artists that were both contemporaries and influenced by, and created the exhibition Joan Didion: What She Means. The accompanying catalog takes what the exhibition does so eloquently, and enhances the art of observation as both a fine art and literary form. What curator and writer Hilton Als did for the exhibition and book is revelatory for Didion's impact, and though the exhibition was planned prior to her passing, it feels like the gravitas of the author's connection to conversation is sorely missed and yet so often imitated. —Evan Pricco