Historically, the Boardwalk has served as a symbol of free speech and self-expression. To fully understand this place, summon images of Beat Poets and, for better or worse, drum circles. The spirit remains an eclectic and exceptional one; one apparently worth fighting for, as evidenced by the various court disputes in recent decades over what can and can't be done on this narrow strip between hot sand and big city. Most recently, the Venice Boardwalk made national news after an ordinance went into effect in January of this year. Ostensibly designed to cut down on the "flea market" feel of the area and stop certain vendors from hiring young transients to hold their spots every morning (the Boardwalk is first come, first serve), the ordinance also prohibits commercial vending along the Walk of items with a "non-expressive purpose." These include clothing, sunglasses, incense, candy, toys, crystals, jewelry, and auto parts. Vendors can still sell books, paintings, recordings, sculptures or other works they have created. In other words, if the "Legalize it" oversized beanie was hand-crocheted by an artisan, it's fair game, but otherwise, the Boardwalk's 200 spots are reserved for original items only. Art, of course, being chief among them — serving as expressive a purpose as they come. All this to say that the first and only Venice Beach Biennial (VBB), a three day art event in conjunction with the Hammer Museum's Made In L.A. 2012 exhibition, could not have struck a more relevant note on the weekend of 13 July.
Organized by Hammer curator Ali Subotnick, the VBB interspersed the Boardwalk "regulars" — veteran vendors who have sold and in some cases created their art under the Venice sun for years — with local artists and performers more used to the gallery or museum setting