Lari Pittman, Untitled #5, 2010. Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and spray paint on gessoed canvas over wood. 102 x 88 in. (259.1 x 223.5 cm). Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Purchase. © Lari Pittman, courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence

  • This is a past exhibition
The most comprehensive retrospective of the prolific Los Angeles painter and long-revered teacher.

Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence is the most comprehensive retrospective in 20 years of the work of the American artist Lari Pittman. As both a prolific painter and a long-revered teacher, the Los Angeles–based artist is a strong presence in both the local art community and the international sphere. Pittman's work has been featured in important exhibitions such as Documenta (1997), the Venice Biennale (2003), and the Whitney Biennial (1993, 1995), as well as in major survey exhibitions of Los Angeles and American art in both the United States and Europe. This exhibition includes approximately 80 paintings and 50 works on paper drawn from the Hammer’s own holdings as well as from public and private collections throughout the world.

From his earliest experiments with collage and decoration during his formative years at California Institute of the Arts, to the iconic paintings produced in response to the AIDS crisis and culture wars of the 1990s, to his present philosophical investigations into the history-telling of textiles, Pittman’s works have remained some of the most prescient and influential of any artist since the 1980s. His highly detailed works on panel and paper—grand tales about love, sex, death, art, and citizenship—feature a rich visual language that he has developed over the course of his four-decade career, replete with owls, Victorian silhouettes, flying text, and exaggerated and sexualized bodies. These meticulously crafted works have become emblematic of a generation of Los Angeles artists who reclaimed ornamentation and lush detail during the 1980s, employing them as part of their political and personal iconography. At the same time Pittman shared the noirish sensibilities of many of his peers whose influences included that era’s thriving punk rock scene and the legendary Feminist Art Program at CalArts. In 1992 his work was featured in the critically acclaimed exhibition Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s, along with that of Mike Kelley, Liz Larner, Raymond Pettibon, Jim Shaw, and others. Pittman’s blend of densely painted surfaces and codified references to sexuality and other charged topics, such as the history of racial violence in the United States, aligned his works with the discourse surrounding the contested body in the early 1990s.

In recent years Pittman has moved inward, depicting memories, his own thought process, and a diverse group of artistic influences. These paintings function as rich dreamscapes and provide insight into the artist’s psyche. Key figures from art history are juxtaposed with references to production—represented as birds, babies, vulvas, thought bubbles, and other points of origin. His painted surfaces have become smoother, accentuating the synthetic quality of the works and showcasing the artist’s mastery of the medium. Among these recent works on view will be Pittman’s cycle of mural-scale paintings titled Flying Carpets (2013).

Pittman generally works alone in the studio and has described painting as a physical activity that involves his entire body. His paintings are created without preliminary sketches, and their large scale mirrors the outsized, complex, and even mythic ideas that inform them. In contrast, his works on paper are more intimate and graphic, featuring fewer objects and a more pronounced flattening of illusionistic space. Still lushly colored and decorated, they offer a quieter counterpart to his paintings. A selection of these drawings spanning Pittman’s career comprises Orangerie, a stand-alone installation that provides an intimate space for viewing his works on paper.

Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence is organized by Connie Butler, chief curator, with Vanessa Arizmendi, curatorial assistant.

Large-print texts of the interpretive labels in this exhibition are available upon request. Ask any gallery attendant or staffperson for assistance.


Lari Pittman (b. 1952) was born in Los Angeles and spent part of his childhood in Colombia, where his mother was born. He attended University of California, Los Angeles, and received both his BFA (1974) and MFA (1976) from California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. Pittman is a professor in the Department of Art at UCLA. He has received numerous awards and honors, including those from the International Association of Art Critics, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Flintridge Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and the J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts.

Exhibition Catalogue

Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence, edited by Connie Butler with contributions by Vanessa Arizmendi, George Baker, Donatien Grau, Helen Molesworth, and Duro Olowu. Available online in the Hammer Store, $65.

Exhibition Tour Schedule

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles: September 29, 2019–January 5, 2020

Kistefos Museet, Jevnaker, Norway: May 24–October 5, 2020

Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence is made possible by lead funding from Alice and Nahum Lainer. 

Major support is provided by Eugenio López Alonso, Jill and Peter Kraus, the LLWW Foundation, the Pohlad Family, and Hope Warschaw and John Law. Generous funding is provided by Emily and Teddy Greenspan, Margo Leavin, Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann, and the Kerry and Simone Vickar Family Foundation, with additional contributions from Tracy and Gary Mezzatesta and Lee Ramer. 

Special thanks are extended to the Hammer Global Council and the artists who contributed to the Hammer Artist Fund. 

The Hammer also acknowledges the artist’s galleries—Regen Projects, Lehmann Maupin, Thomas Dane Gallery, Gerhardsen Gerner, and Studio Guenzani—for their support. Special recognition for catalogue support goes to Shaun Caley Regen and Regen Projects.

Media sponsorship is provided by The Wall Street Journal, KCRW 89.9, and Cultured magazine.

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