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Amanda Williams

The Hammer Museum at UCLA will be shining a spotlight and asking visitors to deeply reflect on one of the country’s most acclaimed authors and thinkers in its new exhibition “Joan Didion: What She Means.”

The exhibition, which will open Oct. 11 and run through Jan. 22, 2023, functions as a portrait of the late author and is organized by Hilton Als — writer, curator, and critically acclaimed New Yorker contributor — in collaboration with Hammer chief curator Connie Butler and curatorial assistant Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi.

“Joan Didion: What She Means” features roughly 60 artists including Vija Celmins, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Maren Hassinger, Silke Otto-Knapp, John Koch, Jorge Pardo, Noah Purifoy, Ed Ruscha, Betye Saar, Pat Steir, and many others. Over 200 works will be presented, including paintings, photography, sculpture, video, film footage, manuscripts and other ephemera.

Opening less than a year after her death at age 87, “Joan Didion: What She Means” was first planned in 2019, with Didion’s blessing. The exhibition grapples with the evolution of Didion’s singular voice as a writer, observer of place and family, and chronicler of our times. Prior to “Joan Didion: What She Means,” Als had previously organized similar portrait exhibitions inspired by writers James Baldwin (2019) and Toni Morrison (2022), both at David Zwirner Gallery in New York. This will be his first such exhibition in Los Angeles.

“‘Joan Didion: What She Means’ is both a beautiful tribute and a moving portrait of the brilliant writer,” said Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum. “Hilton Als approached us with the idea, which was born out of his long engagement with Joan Didion’s writing as well as his personal relationship with her. They were in dialogue before Joan’s passing in 2021, and she was enthusiastic and trusting of Hilton’s curatorial approach.”

The exhibition closely follows Didion’s life according to the places she called home and is laid out in chronological chapters:

Holy Water: Sacramento, Berkeley (1934–1956)

Goodbye to All That: New York (1956–1963)

The White Album: California, Hawai‘i (1964–1988)

Sentimental Journeys: New York, Miami, San Salvador (1988–2021)

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