Reviews of the Pacific Standard Times exhibitions in Los Angeles


The Ghost in the Pacific Time Machine: Chouinard Art Institute and the History of Art in Los Angeles

Published in Issue 11 by Peter Frank

With a veritable archipelago of exhibitions, well over 60-strong, strung throughout the Southland, the Getty-driven Pacific Standard Time initiative seems to document the postwar Los Angeles art scene with remarkable thoroughness. The extent of the documentation, and the initiative itself, are indeed unprecedented; but in fact, the vastness of the project only serves to highlight its gaps. The Getty itself does not pretend to have organized an exhaustive history of southern California art 1945-1980, but only to have set the compilation of that history in motion (or at least to have kicked it into third gear). With any luck, Pacific Standard Time’s organizers aver, the project itself, scheduled to run through next April, is just the beginning of an ongoing reclamation of southern California’s recent art history.

Perhaps Pacific Standard Time shouldn’t whimper out in 2012, but become some sort of annual (okay, bi-annual) event, during which month or two several institutions, large or small, public or commercial, mount exhibitions devoted specifically to southern California (okay, anywhere California) art before 1980 (indeed, well before 1980 – like 1930, or 1880). Each time around a different focus can be posited: one year can stress, say, women artists; another, oh, abstract painting; still another, how about patrons of the modern.

But if any through-theme demands closer inspection – especially for getting so little this time around – it is the role of art education in the emergence of the southern California art scene. One could argue that our art world is as large and dynamic – and, as we’re learning, durable and already somewhat venerable – as it is because so many artists emerge here and choose to remain. And one can argue further that this plethora of artistic talent has been created not principally by the lure Los Angeles and environs exercise on immigrant artists, but by the region’s ability to create artists – that is, to educate them and initiate them, ultimately, into an overarching community. Counting dedicated art schools and university and college art departments, there are more places to receive an education in visual art, fine and applied, in southern California than in any other comparable region in America.

This, some insist, is a mixed blessing at best. But, then, any similar social condition – the relatively small (if growing) commerce in art, or the influence of Hollywood, or the flexible but rapidly changing real estate available to artists, or the climate – is a mixed blessing. And as far as the pre-1980 L.A. art scene goes, it’s a fact, a done deal, history. Whether driven by local industries’ need for designers, local schools’ need for GI-bill students (after both World Wars), or local boosters’ need for some culture to crow about, southern California schools have been cranking out artists at a steady pace for a good century, at least. And, it would seem, this critical mass has led to a distinctive and dynamic discourse.

The offerings of Pacific Standard Time make this little apparent. The only investigation of a school’s impact undertaken by an institution is “Best Kept Secret,” the Laguna Art Museum’s look at the early years of the University of California Irvine art department. (Full disclosure: I wrote the show’s catalogue essay and consulted a bit on its curation.) More surprisingly, no institution of higher learning has chosen to examine its own art history, at least with anything more than a glancing nod to faculty and alumni. Nearly all such institutions in these parts can lay claim to some significant figure and/or event and/or pedagogic innovation; none, however, has chosen to do so. That would make for a good PST theme…

When that theme happens, in particular, I hope someone mounts an exhibition looking at the Chouinard Art Institute, a great school that can no longer present its own history. Of the several local art schools to have flourished and then disappeared, Chouinard is certainly the most heralded and most fondly remembered – and the most important. Its name keeps coming up as the place that issued degrees, undergraduate and graduate, to some of PST’s “biggest” names – and, not incidentally, that employed many other of those well-known figures. An exhibition surveying the school’s half-century existence was mounted a decade ago – in three institutions in northern San Diego, at a goodly remove from Chouinard’s home base near downtown LA. It is high time for another, (literally) closer look.

That exhibit, “Chouinard: A Living Legacy,” was organized and sponsored by the Chouinard Foundation, then (as now) dedicated to the preservation of the school’s legacy. And it is a more distinctive legacy than most of us realize. We know Chouinard as the art school that became the California Institute for the Arts. That process of “becoming” was not a simple metamorphosis from easel-oriented caterpillar to multi-media butterfly. Economics and politics came to bear, much as they did when, say, the Newport Harbor Art Museum sought to absorb the Laguna Art Museum and become the Orange County Museum of Art (which kinda happened and kinda didn’t), or Norton Simon bought the Pasadena Art Museum and hid it under his own collection (from whence it has been slowly and steadily emerging). Like the Pasadena Museum, Chouinard bowed out with great dignity, a bit less grace, and not at all quietly. And old-timers remember the school as fondly as they do the museum (both of which vanished in the early 1970s).

Chouinard grew out of its principal rival, the Otis Art Institute, but was nearly as old. Founded as World War I wound down, Otis could not grow its physical plant quickly enough to keep up with its burgeoning enrollment. A student revolt prompted Otis’ first teacher of art history, Nelbert Chouinard, to found an additional school literally around the corner – with the blessing of Otis’ own founding administration. The school opened its doors in 1921.

Ms. Chouinard’s directorial approach was somewhat less top-down than was Otis’; while intimately involved in the running of the school’s physical and financial matters – and famously present on campus as a kind of “watchful eye” – she trusted more or less entirely in her teachers to determine their own pedagogies. From the start, artists of different stylistic and ideological persuasions as well as mediumistic skills comprised the faculty, providing students broad exposure to the scope of artistic discourse and allowing each to gravitate to an appropriate mentor. By all accounts, there was a consensus that all instruction was based in drawing, especially but not exclusively drawing from observation. But every instructor interpreted this fundament differently, adapting it to his or her own pedagogical style. This pertained no less to design, illustration, and other applied-arts curricula than it did to the fine arts, resulting in a strong crossover pattern. The list of teachers associated with Chouinard is matched only by the roster of its students – many of whom returned to teach. Early on the school became the redoubt for the southern California “watercolor school,” boasting the likes of Millard Sheets, Rex Brandt, Phil Dike, Phil Paradise, and Emil Kosa. But the local avant garde also thrived at the school, as the recorded presence of Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Lorser Feitelson, Fred Hammersley, William Brice, and Rico Lebrun attests. Visiting scholars, including international figures such as Alexander Archipenko and Hans Hofmann, further enlivened Chouinard’s first decades, and after World War II the school became a veritable crossroads for the national as well as local art scene, hosting increasingly adventurous lectures and events right up to its closing in 1972.

The postwar years were in fact Chouinard’s glory days, when the school was a hotbed of abstract expressionist practice with Hans Burkhardt, Emerson Woelffer, John Altoon, Richards[STET.] Ruben, Matsumi Kanemitsu, Ynez Johnston, Connor Everts and Robert Irwin on hand. Both student and teacher at Chouinard, Irwin became the go-to guy in the late 1950s for a group of disaffected advertising design majors who switched over to fine art – a group including Ron Miyashiro, Joe Goode, and Larry Bell and Ed Ruscha. For his infamous “War Babies” show at the pioneering Huysmans Gallery, Henry Hopkins put Bell, Goode, and Miyashiro together with fellow Chouinard grad Ed Bereal; Ruscha’s career also launched right out of school, at the nearby Ferus Gallery. Yet other artists associated with Chouinard in its final years include – hold on to your hat – Terry Allen, Chuck Arnoldi, Ralph Bacerra, Mary Corse, both Guy and Laddie John Dill, Sam Erenberg, Llyn Foulkes, Raul Guerrero, Gary Lang, Margaret Neilsen, Elsa Rady, Allen Ruppersberg, Peter Shire, Elena Siff, Matthew Thomas, Doug Wheeler, and Tom Wudl.

This list, of course, only scratches the surface of Chouinard. The “Living Legacy” show brought together dozens of artists, some notable enough for their reputations, but more notable for their achievement, an achievement perhaps overshadowed by their classmates and colleagues but testifying to the organizing principle of Pacific Standard Time, that Los Angeles was a cauldron of artistic accomplishment and experiment long before it was recognized as such. Indeed, the Chouinard legacy demonstrates that that cauldron began brewing well before even PST’s chronological reach. Nelbert Chouinard was an enlightened and dedicated administrator, and had a hands-on involvement with her school for most of its existence. She was less gifted with money, more generous and trusting than judicious (allowing, for instance, accountants to embezzle the school’s funds at least twice), and the school spent much of its existence in financial peril. During the Depression and War years in particular, when Chouinard had to compete with Otis and its newer neighbor Art Center College for a shrunken enrollment, it teetered on the edge of collapse.

Walt Disney, who sent many of his animators to Chouinard for training and re-training, was an early and frequent angel; but after his death in 1966 (and Chouinard’s own three years later), his Imagineers re-imagined the school into something else. As the list of artists above indicates, the school was no stranger to “post-studio” art, and had begun as early as 1960 to expand its conception of artistic practice under the guidance of art-school professionals Mitch Wilder and Gerald Nordland. But the absorption of Chouinard into a pan-artistic Institute of the Arts hadn’t been in the cards until the Disney people decided to play their hand.

With its emphasis on drawing and intensive studio practice, Chouinard was a hotbed of stylistic revolution and academic improvisation, yet not of practical innovation the way Cal Arts was, and remains. One might deduce that, as its rival art schools themselves evolved, Chouinard lost its edge in the competition to be edgy; but accounts indicate that it was a lively, even unpredictable place to study and to teach right up to its final commencement forty years ago. It might also be determined that only in the wake of Chouinard’s demise did Otis and Art Center (not to mention the neo-traditional Laguna College of Art and Design) undergo their own radical transformations.

In this respect, especially, the Chouinard Art Institute is the spectre that haunts the Los Angeles art world. It is a friendly ghost, but a restless one, and, as the PST exhibitions evince, it gets around.


LA magazine

September 2011 Issue

The Insider’s Guide to Art in Los Angeles

Pacific Standard Time, a massive Getty-organized expo this fall, includes more than 50 cultural institutions and confirms what Angelenos have known for years: Their city is a creative powerhouse to rival New York.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the American art scene begins and ends in New York City. But Los Angeles is where Chris Burden reinvented performance art by having a friend shoot him in the arm. It’s where Edward Kienholz birthed assemblage sculpture, John Baldessari helped forge Conceptualism, Judy Chicago gave creative voice to feminism, and Charles and Ray Eames laid the groundwork for today’s design industry. Ed Ruscha and David Hockney made Southern California imagery key to the language of Pop Art, and although New Yorkers might not want to hear it, L.A. was the first place Andy Warhol exhibited his famous soup cans.

While the quality of the work coming out of the Southland lately—Ryan Trecartin’s caffeinated videos, Shepard Fairey’s ubiquitous graphics—is impossible to deny, “there’s still this idea that before the 1980s there was no art scene in Los Angeles,” says Andrew Perchuk, the deputy director of the Getty Research Institute. He’s spearheading Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980, which traces the formation and influence of L.A.’s postwar art scene. When it opens next month—at the Getty and more than 50 other SoCal centers—it will be the city’s biggest art extravaganza to date.

Perchuk hopes Pacific Standard Time will direct new attention to L.A. as a global art mecca. “People don’t think about getting on a plane and going to see art here like they do with New York or London or Paris,” he says. But there are plenty of reasons they should: New York gallerist Jeffrey Deitch arrived last year to revitalize the Museum of Contemporary Art, while philanthropist Eli Broad is bankrolling a new campus by Renzo Piano for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a building downtown by Diller Scofidio + Renfro for his own contemporary collection. Downtown is the official arts district, thanks to the studios in former toy factories and cold-storage warehouses, but farther west in tiny Culver City, dozens of galleries have opened in the past decade.

Today’s work reflects the same spirit of collaboration and rejection of convention evident in Pacific Standard Time—a result of the city’s dispersed geography and lack of traditional arts infrastructure. Gallery shows are rarely the goal; rather, L.A. is sprinkled with pop-ups, roaming truck exhibitions, and raucous live performances. “I’m not trying to frame it into a kind of regionalism,” says Edgar Arceneaux, a native Angeleno working on a “social sculpture” near the Watts Towers. “But the artists here seem to have a particular kind of gumption for doing it themselves.”

• • •


Don’t miss these exhibitions at this fall’s Pacific Standard Time art extravaganza

“State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970”
The rise of California Conceptualism, featuring artists ranging from Chris Burden to William Wegman.
Orange County Museum of Art, opens October 9

Eames storage unit, 1951-52, Charles and Ray Eames

“California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way”
A history of the “California look” in interior design, from the Eameses’ iconic loungers to architectural pottery.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opens October 1

Diamond Column, 1978, DeWain Valentine

“Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface”
Installations by artists like James Turrell and Bruce Nauman that explore perception and the body’s relationship to the external world.
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, opens September 25

“Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980”
Explores the city’s often-overlooked African-American artists and their role in the civil-rights and Black Power movements.
Hammer Museum, opens October 2

Instant Mural, 1974, Asco

“Asco: Elite of The Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987”
A survey of the collective that famously tagged LACMA’s exterior to protest the absence of Latino artists inside.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opens September 4

Continued (page 2 of 2)

• • •


Pacific Standard Time curator Andrew Perchuk shares 10 of the city’s watershed creative moments.

Walter and Louise Arensberg move their collection of Dada and Surrealism to Hollywood, subsequently schooling a generation of local artists and curators in modern art.

Editor John Entenza founds the Case Study House program, recruiting architects like the Eameses, Richard Neutra, and Pierre Koenig to design visionary modern homes.

Black Girl’s Window, 1969, Betye Saar1954
The Watts Towers are completed, establishing Southern California as a hub for assemblage art; noteworthy practitioners over the ensuing decades will include Edward Kienholz, Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman, and Betye Saar.

Los Angeles’ Ferus Gallery is the first to give Andy Warhol—who will later say, “The further west we drove, the more Pop everything looked”—a venue to exhibit his iconic Campbell’s soup cans.

John Baldessari founds the Post Studio course at Cal Arts, where he teaches David Salle, Jack Goldstein, James Welling, and others who will later move to SoHo and participate in New York’s eighties art boom.

Judy Chicago in the first Feminist Studio Workshop brochure, 19731972
Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro open Womanhouse, a Hollywood mansion in which 17 female artists receive rooms to do what they want with, turning L.A. into a mecca for feminist art.

To critique the assumption that all Mexican-American artists are muralists, members of the performance-art collective Asco create an “instant mural” by taping themselves to the exterior of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Robert Williams coins the term lowbrow art to describe L.A. skate and surf culture’s mix of graffiti, cartooning, illustration, tattoo art, and custom car painting, later founding Juxtapoz magazine to celebrate it.

It Terrifies Me. . ., 1980, Raymond Pettibon1992
The Museum of Contemporary Art’s sex-and-violence-filled “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s” transforms the city’s sunny reputation, making stars of Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon, Mike Kelley, and Charles Ray.

Heavyweight dealers Blum & Poe open on La Cienega Boulevard, signaling the arrival of Culver City as a major arts center.

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The Fantastic and Revelatory Story of Art and Black LA

The introduction to "Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980"

The introduction to “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980″ (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

On first glance, some may wonder why MoMA PS1, a New York contemporary art museum, has just opened a historical exhibition of art from Los Angeles. But as MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey explained at the press preview last week, the show in question, Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980, actually has a connection to the New York institution: many of the artists in the exhibition eventually migrated from LA to New York, and some of the art on view was actually shown there in the 1980s. “It’s nice to be able to show historical work here, to be able to choose things that reflect the founding period” of the museum, Eleey said.

Kellie Jones speaking at the press preview

All of that is well and good, and convincing, too, but in the end it hardly matters at all. Once you step inside the exhibition, you realize that Now Dig This! is so good — so well-curated, so full of fantastic art, so revelatory — that it was worth bringing to New York no matter what. I suspect that even for those MoMA and MoMA PS1 staffers who worked to get it here, the power of the exhibition came first, the connection to PS1 second.

Now Dig This! was originally organized by art historian and Columbia University professor Kellie Jones for the Getty Foundation’s LA art blowout Pacific Standard Time, which involved more 60 cultural institutions from Southern California mounting more than 60 shows about art made in and around LA between 1945 and 1980. It was originally shown at the Hammer Museum and only closed on January 8, meaning the MoMA and PS1 curators managed to bring it here in less than a year. It’s also one of the only shows (at least so far) to travel.

It’s not hard to see why. Amid the grand narrative of postwar LA art painted by Pacific Standard Time, Jones has zoomed in on one specific subset: the black artistic communities (and she takes this to mean the communities as a whole, including participants and friends of other cultural groups) in the city during a two-decade period. But once you get inside the smaller piece she’s broken off, you realize that she’s actually widened the art-historical narrative. She’s blown shit wide open.

Dan Concholar, "Suitcase"

Dan Concholar, “Suitcase” (1980)

The art on view here — 140 works by 33 artists — is sophisticated, playful, thoughtful, political, and beautiful. It’s minimalist and Pop, abstract and figurative, made of found materials and welded steel. It may sound naive or even condescending to marvel at the diversity of it, but it’s the volume and diversity that, when combined with the high quality of the art as well as the little attention it’s received, make the show so profound. In one of the galleries, there is a suitcase spread open on a white platform, its archival contents — magazines, slides, envelopes, artwork — splayed out in and around it. The suitcase, the wall text tells us, is an installation by Dan Concholar but actually belonged to Charles White, one of artists in the “Front Runners” section of the exhibition. It was discovered not too long ago in the archives of Just Above Midtown gallery with unseen artwork by George Clack and Ruth G. Waddy inside it. That suitcase is a microcosm of the entire show.

The exhibition is organized in five sections — “Front Runners,” “Assembling,” “Artists/Gallerists,” “Postminimal Art and Performance,” and “Los Angeles Snapshot/Friends.” As some of those titles suggest, the real underlying subject here, and the reason why the show hangs together so well, is that this is as much a historical exhibition about communities as it is a display of individual art objects.

Charles White, "Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man)"

Charles White, “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man)” (detail) (1873)

A sculpture by Melvin Edwards

The show opens with a gallery of work by some of the precedent setters, among them social realist drawings by figurehead Charles White and deeply evocative steel sculptures by Melvin Edwards, the pair of which immediately demonstrates the different ways that art can be political. From there, a stunning room full of assemblages by Betye Saar and John Outterbridge mixes motifs, mediums, and high and low art, the artists drawing on voodoo, traditional African patterns, junk art, Rauschenberg’s confines, and much more. The pieces seem to be carrying on a charged conversation of their own — one that bleeds over into the next room, where more assemblages by Dale Brockman Davis and Noah Purifoy pick up on Saar’s and Outterbridge’s visual themes and inspirations. The gritty but often colorful aesthetic of those works resonates with John T. Riddle’s biting (in subject matter) yet playful (in appearance) metal sculptures, also on view in that gallery.

Work by John Outterbridge (foreground) and Noah Purifoy (background)

John T. Riddle, "Gradual Troop Withdrawal"

John T. Riddle, “Gradual Troop Withdrawal” (1970)

Another two rooms down the line, you’re reminded of the political and social roots of much of this work — although you might just call those roots “life” — when you watch footage from the 1972 Watts Summer Festival and meet African-American kids from the neighborhood who turned their energy and frustration into artwork. This was something that the bonafide artists in Now Dig This! did, too, as Jones explained at the press preview: Purifoy was the first director of the Watts Towers Art Center, and he organized a show after the Watts Rebellion of artists making work from the rubble.

Marie Johnson Calloway, "School Crossing Guard"

Marie Johnson Calloway, “School Crossing Guard” (1970s)

The next room picks up on this idea of local spaces and community, focusing on artists who opened up their own spaces and used the galleries as meeting places. “When people don’t show your work, you show it on your own,” Jones had said. Not only that, but you write your own history, which is what people like Samella Lewis and Ruth Waddy did. Lewis is an artist (a few strong lithographs on view in the first gallery) and art historian who founded the quarterly Black Art in 1976 and published, with Waddy, also an artist, the two-volume Black Artists on Art in 1969 and 1971.

A wall of work by Elizabeth Leigh-Taylor, Samella Lewis, William Pajaud, Ruth Waddy, and Tyrus Wong

Suzanne Jackson, "Apparitional Visitations"

Suzanne Jackson, “Apparitional Visitations” (1973)

The last two rooms of the show focus on postminimal art and performance, moving into more well-known territory with a selection of work by David Hammons alongside a handful others. But Hammons’s art looks different here — it has gained a broader and stronger context and seems to emerge organically from what’s come before. At the press preview Jones told an anecdote about Hammons: at one point he apparently said that he hadn’t known any African-American artists before he met Charles White. Today, Jones pointed out, young African-American artists don’t have the same problem; they know their history. And fortunately for them, but more importantly all of us, we now know even more of it.

David Hammons, "Bag Lady in Flight"

David Hammons, “Bag Lady in Flight” (1970s, reconstructed 1990s)

Foreground: Maren Hassinger, “Place for Nature” (2011); background: Senga Nengudi, “Only Love Saves the Day” (2011)

Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 is on view at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens) through March 11, 2013.



Art Review

A New Pin on the Art Map

Left, photograph by Pablo Mason, Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society; right, Harry Gamboa/Museum of Latin American Art

Bruce Nauman’s “Green Light Corridor” (1970), left, and Harry Gamboa Jr.’s “Tree in the Galaxie” (1978). More Photos »

Published: November 10, 2011

LOS ANGELES — The postwar art of Southern California is a house with many mansions, a great number of which are now open for viewing. I refer of course to the cacophonous, synergistic, sometimes bizarre colossus of exhibitions known as “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” which is rampant throughout the Los Angeles region.


It sharply divides our knowledge of postwar art — not just Californian but American — into two periods: before and after “Pacific Standard Time.” Before, we knew a lot, and that lot tended to greatly favor New York. A few Los Angeles artists were highly visible and unanimously revered, namely Ed Ruscha and other denizens of the Ferus Gallery, that supercool locus of the Los Angeles art scene in the 1960s, plus Bruce Nauman and Chris Burden, but that was about it. After, we know a whole lot more, and the balance is much more even. One of the many messages delivered by this profusion of what will eventually be nearly 70 museum exhibitions is that New York did not act alone in the postwar era. And neither did those fabulous Ferus boys.

Los Angeles may have entered the postwar years with little to speak of in the way of a contemporary art world, but within a decade it was more than making up for lost time. The oft-cited litany of factors contributing to this explosion of art making includes the region’s light, the spaciousness, the cheap rents, Hollywood, the aerospace industry, the car culture, a handful of groundbreaking exhibitions in the ’60s at the Pasadena Art Museum, and the increasingly influential art schools. (There were also the harsh, sometimes galvanizing inequities of the city, especially as experienced by those living in the ghettos and barrios of South Central and East Los Angeles.)

Today Los Angeles has museums and galleries galore, and generations of artistic talent to showcase. And above all — and above it all — it has the Getty Center, on its Brentwood hilltop, which underwrote the project to the tune of about $10 million. Parceled out, the Getty’s largess enabled scores of institutions to mount exhibitions excavating and retrieving one portion or another of the area’s rich recent cultural past.

During my 5 days here I crammed in about 10 days’ worth of art viewing, with visits to some 35 shows in museums, alternative spaces and a few of the commercial galleries that joined the fray.

It was like moving among linked sites on a real-world information superhighway. Exhibitions veered from dense displays of archival documents to elegantly spacious presentations of artworks, all complementing, amplifying and contradicting one another, highlighting the contributions of African-American and Mexican-American artists, the effects of feminism and the proliferation of art forms like assemblage, ceramics and photography. Certain artists and events put in repeat appearances, seen from new angles or within different narratives. And amid it all, a few overarching ideas emerged.


The great thing about “Pacific Standard Time” is that as more and more institutions got involved, the Getty loosened its grip, and the project morphed into something whose revelations no one could have predicted. But both the older, neater version of Los Angeles’s postwar art history and hints of the messier one emerging from the surrounding shows are encapsulated in the Getty’s own “Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture 1950-1970.” In a highly compressed fashion (read: crowded, too small and weirdly canonical), the show rehearses the well-known (read: too white and too male) ’60s narrative of found-object assemblage, sleek, abstract Finish Fetish sculpture painting, Pop Art and illusionistic Light and Space work, adding some new twists to the story.

In the first gallery the narrative backs up to the late 1950s, reviewing the alacrity with which ceramics artists like John Mason, Peter Voulkos, Ken Price and Henry Takemoto responded to the liberating scale and gesture of Abstract Expressionism in aggressive, often monumental clay sculptures and reliefs, even as some painters, like John McLaughlin, emphatically ignored it, fashioning pristine atmospheric geometries that set the stage for the Light and Space generation.

The show goes on to establish that assemblage was, from the start, a mixed-race endeavor, pursued by white artists like Ed Kienholz, Wallace Berman and Llyn Foulkes, but also by black ones like Melvin Edwards, Ed Bereal, Noah Purifoy and Betye Saar (as well as the Japanese-American Ron Miyashiro). Next the Finish Fetish section includes a decoratively painted car hood from 1964 by the feminist pioneer Judy Chicago. The show continues to the brink of Conceptual Art with a painted word painting from the late 1960s by John Baldessari and concludes with a photograph of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, whose mosaic-covered spires are a monumental ode to outsider art and assemblage.

For an illuminating footnote to the Getty show, “Artistic Evolution: Southern California Artists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1945-1963,” a small exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in Exposition Park, celebrates the annual juried art shows for local artists held there starting in the 1940s. Just about everyone who became anyone submitted work; the sampling here includes little-known early Abstract Expressionist paintings by Robert Irwin and Mr. Baldessari.


Other shows enlarge upon the different aspects of the Getty show with visionary force. Distributed among the three sites of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the impeccable “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface,” traces the dematerialization of Finish Fetish sculpture into the perceptual etherealities of Light and Space art. It includes a capsule survey of Larry Bell’s early progress from geometric painting to glass-box sculptures, as well as the luminous paintings and installations of Douglas Wheeler and Mary Corse and the translucent resin sculptures of Helen Pashgian and DeWain Valentine. And, in a narrow corridor piece by Mr. Nauman, light and space turn psychological and claustrophobic. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the museum’s main building, in La Jolla, sits on the edge of the light and space of the Pacific.

A visionary power of a gritty, urban sort permeates “Now Dig This: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980,” a beautiful show at the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles. This exhibition examines the rich art scene that emerged in the early 1960s in South Central, revealing how a host of mostly but not always black artists explored assemblage’s special capacities to fuse medium and message, in some cases inspired by the trauma of the 1965 Watts riots.

Mr. Edwards’s fierce welded scrap assemblage-sculptures are seen again here, as are Ms. Saar’s poetic recylings of image and object, joined by the efforts of a dozen or so more artists, including the macabre doll-like sculptures of John Outterbridge, and the brooding reliefs of Alonzo Davis. The exhibition also reveals how assemblage was further transformed in the early 1970s by performance-oriented installations of found objects by Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger and David Hammons.

The Hammer show is itself placed in even broader context by “Places of Validation,: Art and Progression,” at the California African American Museum, back in Exposition Park. Its nearly 90 artists include half of those at the Hammer, with especially impressive pieces by Mr. Hammons and Mr. Purifoy.

(An apotheosis of assemblage as medium and message is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in Kienholz’s wrenching, incendiary “Five-Car Stud” made from 1969 to ’72. The stark nighttime tableau of life-size figures and real cars, which depicts the castration of a black man by six white men while Delta blues plays on the radio of the victim’s pickup truck and, inside it, his white female companion looks on in horror. The piece was exhibited previously only once, at the 1972 “Documenta 5” in Germany.)

Southern California is showcased as an epicenter of feminist art in “Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building” in a cavernous gallery at the Otis College of Art and Design near Los Angeles Airport. A deluge of mostly archival material — pamphlets, broadsheets, posters, documents, photographs, videos — with only occasional artworks, its main focus is the evolution of consciousness and collective spaces that culminated in the Woman’s Building, founded in Los Angeles in 1973 by Judy Chicago, the designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and the art historian Arlene Raven. That, and the array of further activism, feminist art and outreach programs that the Woman’s Building fostered during its 18-year existence. This is the kind of show that I once would have said would make a better book than exhibition, and it comes with two very fine volumes. But nothing beats wading through the array of documentary evidence for a visceral sense of the passions, hard work, ingenuity, commitment and very real changes that these women wrought.


While prominently placed at the Getty, ceramics had only a few echoes among the “Pacific Standard Time” shows that I saw — but that will soon change. “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945-1975,” opening on Saturday at the American Museum of Ceramics Art in Pomona, with some 300 variously functional, abstract and decorative works by around 50 artists. And among the second wave of shows opening in January is the more focused “Clay’s Tectonic Shift: Peter Voulkos, John Mason and Ken Price” at Scripps College in Claremont, accompanied by a catalog that traces the Ferus Gallery’s often ignored promotion of ceramic artists like Mason in the late ’50s.

Ceramics do have one stunning moment in the current lineup: the survey of the potter Beatrice Wood (1893-1998) at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. A confidante of Marcel Duchamp during his New York Dada days in the late 1910s, Wood moved to Los Angeles in 1928 and gravitated slowly to clay. In an instance of late blooming that more or less coincided with the growth of studio ceramics in Southern California, she became a potter of distinction, reaching maturity in the 1960s with clunky lusterware chalices and goblets. Their brash yet subtle iridescent surfaces look spectacular beneath the Santa Monica museum’s skylights. Wood’s indifference to the niceties of craft give her forms a roguish humor and sculptural force comparable to those of the Italian modernist Lucio Fontana’s (quite different) works in clay. Meanwhile functional ceramics as well as the sculptural kind are plentiful in “California Design 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way’ ” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where a wall label notes Voulkos’s influential (and controversial) pronouncement in the 1950s that his efforts were art, not craft. The design-theme equivalent of the Getty show, this dense, meandering homage to California’s considerable influence on American lifestyle also encompasses furniture, textiles, fashion, industrial and graphic design as well as the emblematic living room of Charles and Ray Eames, available in its entirety because the Eames house-museum in Pacific Palisades is undergoing restoration.

The onslaught of the county museum show finds a highly focused counterpoint in “Eames Words” at the fledgling Architecture and Design Museum, in a climate-control-free storefront across the street. All but devoid of art, the show succeeds on sheer curatorial imagination. With quotations from the Eameses displayed across walls, a few films and some alluring displays of everyday objects and raw materials, it is like being inside the designers’ heads.


Five eye-opening exhibitions that together highlight the work of Mexican-Americans — as well as the Mexican influence on the region’s visual culture — suggest that one of the richest veins running through postwar Southern California art is the Mexican-American one. And still these shows leave you with the suspicion that the surface has barely been scratched.

At the Autry National Center in Griffiths Park, “Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation” is devoted to mostly realist painting and sculpture by six Angeleno artists (from three generations, actually). The works range in date from 1906 to the 1970s, with high points including the beautifully reserved still lifes of Eduardo Carrillo (1937-1997).

At the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, the photographs of Oscar Castillo offer a stirring photojournalistic account of Mexican-American life in Los Angeles in the 1970s, while “Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement” sweeps through paintings, drawings, mural art, political posters and punk music. It also includes Asco, the subversive Chicano collective of the 1970s, whose founding members — Harry Gamboa Jr., Willie Herrón, Gronk and Patssi Valdez — dissented from the more decorous and familiar forms of Chicano art with openly rebellious hit-and-run street performances and other actions.

Asco really gets its due in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Asco: The Elite of the Obscure,” where it s combination of incisive satire, attitude and style is preserved in images that presage post modern set-up photography and appropriation art. And the artists of Asco also figure, both collectively and individually, in the amazing if disjointed “MEX/L.A.: ‘Mexican’ Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985” at the Museum of Latin American Art, which was established 15 years ago in a former bowling alley in Long Beach. Opening with a fabulously customized lowrider from 1970 by Jesse Valdez Jr., this exhibition reaches back to before World War II with drawings by Mexican muralists José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Its wide net includes all kinds of artists influenced by Mexican culture (Frank Lloyd Wright, the Eameses, Walt Disney), and encompasses the photographer Graciela Iturbide, the great outsider Martin Ramirez and recent Conceptualists like Guillermo Gómez-Peña. One telling resurrection is Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871-1946), whose politically pointed paintings from the late ’30s of rope-bound Mexicans were executed on pages taken from newspapers, a strategy that presages similar works by Adrian Piper 30 years later. Among the most exciting, open-ended achievements of “Pacific Standard Time,” this rambunctious show should inspire a larger, even more omnivorous one.


Another insistent strain in much of “Pacific Standard Time” is photography and its constantly mutating role in Conceptual Art starting in the early ’70s. Among the several worthy gallery shows up during my visit, the most impressive was the near total re-creation, at Cherry and Martin, a gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, of “Photography into Sculpture,” a 1970 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that included numerous Los Angeles artists who were exploring three-dimensional uses of photographs. (Two early innovators in this area are the subject of their own show, “Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken” at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena.)

The metastasizing of photography (and also video) is a central component in two immense exhibitions, which also go beyond the Southern California focus of “Pacific Standard Time” to address the perennial art historical imbalance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Newport Beach, the Orange County Museum of Art’s “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970” is a dense, seemingly encyclopedic presentation of Conceptual Art from up and down the coast, shot through with various forms of satire, political fury and emotional vulnerability. Organized with the Berkeley Art Museum, where it will open in late February, it presents works by some 50 artists and artist collectives and resurrects numerous forgotten talents while deepening appreciation of more familiar ones.

An interesting minor sidebar to this exhibition — and also to the women’s show at Otis — is “She Accepts the Proposition: Women Gallerists and the Redefinition of Art in Los Angeles, 1967-1978” at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica. Conceived as a corrective to the view that male curators and art dealers did all the heavy lifting in Los Angeles, it centers on five female art dealers who mounted pioneering shows of installation, conceptual and video art. The Getty should offer grant support for a catalog for this show, which is a gem.

The other immense show that is rife with (although hardly limited to) photo-based work is the baleful, ambitious “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles organized by Paul Schimmel, its chief curator.

An instance of curatorial imperiousness that makes few concessions to viewer stamina, it represent some 140 artists with nearly 500 artworks, spanning the years between two Californian presidencies — from Richard M. Nixon’s resignation to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan — and charting what might be called the beginning of the breakdown of the American Dream that owed so much to California.

It opens with a haunting juxtaposition of Robert Arneson’s monumental 1981 bust of San Francisco’s assassinated mayor, George Moscone, and several paintings by Mr. Foulkes that riff with Baconesque defacements on official, implicitly presidential portraiture. In effect this exhibition “samples” work from almost every other show in “Pacific Standard Time.” It contains paintings by Mr. Ruscha, Chicano posters and mural drawings, one of Mr. Outterbridge’s wicked dolls and just about every artist, it sometimes seems, in the “State of Mind” show. Its breadth of vision is breathtaking, but it also flattens the art. One can’t help but feel that the “big black sun” may be Mr. Schimmel himself.


“Pacific Standard Time” has been touted as rewriting history. It seems equally plausible to say that it simply explodes it, revealing the immensity of art before the narrowing and ordering of the historicizing process. Taken together, its shows may be the next best thing to being there the first time around, or maybe even better: they surely reveal more than any single individual living through these times could have seen or known about.

To a great extent this epic of exhibitions reflect our moment’s broader historical attitude, which might be characterized as No Artist Left Behind. Anyone who made art at a given moment is eligible to be part of the history of that moment. It’s expansive and inclusive and also reminds of me of Lewis Carroll’s imaginary full-scale map, which was meant to be as large as the area it charted.

“Pacific Standard Time” is a great argument for museums concentrating first and foremost on local history, for a kind of cosmopolitan regionalism, if you will. It sets an example that other curators in other cities should follow, beginning in my mind with Chicago and San Francisco. If America has more than one art capital, it probably has more than two.


Temporary Art Review is a platform for contemporary art criticism that focuses on alternative spaces and critical exchange among disparate art communities. Temporary is a national network, highlighting both practical and theoretical discourse through exhibition reviews, interviews, essays and profiles on artist-run spaces and projects.

Weegee. The Gold Painted Stripper, 1950.

The LA Galaxy

What immediately struck me on visiting the various outposts of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980, a catchall label for approximately 60 shows dotted around Southern California, was the existence of artists I barely registered, or even heard of, while studying–and otherwise living–in LA for over a decade (1993-2004). I felt like a prodigal astronaut returning to a home planet, only to find the planet wasn’t at all how I remembered it. My ignorance, dear reader, ought to be pardoned because LA’s art production resembles nothing less than a galaxy of 100 billion stars, 100,000 light years wide, bulging in the middle 16,000 light years thick.

All the familiar stars in the familiar constellations were there at the Getty’s four exhibits and MOCA’s Under the Big Black Sun: Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Chris Burden, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Richard Diebenkorn and David Hockney. Some of my school chums worked in these star’s studios and went on to form a second, third and fourth generation of LA art production. These inclusions dutifully mapped out the heavens as well as any astronomy textbook might be expected to do so.

However, more obscure light and space artists like DeWain Valentine, with his six-ton resin monolith sculpture, Gray Column (1975-76), or conceptual painter Joe Goode, whose burned and cut-up canvases–such as Torn Cloud 73 (1972)–had been on the periphery of my consciousness at the time, steal the show at the Getty. These figures also seem to anticipate the rise of “corporate-abstractionist” art, by the likes of New York’s Garth Weiser, or environmental artists, like Olafur Eliasson, working decades later and are perhaps more relevant to today’s painters and sculptors than their more famous cool school colleagues. The curators at work here are justifiably redefining the recent past.

Celestial bodies just outside the acceptable charmed solar systems of the art world explode conventional notions of how LA art got to be the way it is today. Turns out that Weegee called LA home for a time and produced a massive corpus of work there. Weegee’s crass sense of humor displayed in Naked Hollywood, MOCA’s extensive survey of his grotesque starlettes, comical drunks and hysterical fans, successfully tops everything shown at Under The Big Black Sun. Indeed, it suggests Weegee was the original bad boy of LA art. With a crooked smile and a sardonic eye for the foibles of the everyday Angeleno, Weegee identified LA as “Newark with Palm Trees,” and he proved it–his camera doesn’t lie. Even if it was a bit vindictive, Weegee documented the golden age of LA with all its blemishes.

Then the redefinition gets more complicated–LA has a multicultural art history, too. The Hammer’s Now Dig This!, curated by Kellie Jones surveys the production of African-American art in approximately the same period–1960 to 1980. Her work serves as an archaeological dig to an almost lost world. Neglected reputations resurrected for a broader public include: Daniel LaRue Johnson, Melvin Edwards, John Outterbridge, along with the better know artists David Hammons and Betye Saar. (Expect to see this show roll up in New York sooner rather than later.) UCLA’s Fowler Museum and LACMA flesh out the Chicano scene. Judith Baca, Carlos Alvarez, Gronk and ASCO present a completely different LA from the one you see in the movies–you will not be disappointed.

If you catch the various exhibits, ponder the magic of a city that rips down and reinvents itself every decade, like a supernova flaring up and burning out. Just remember you are standing in a city that’s evolving, revolving at 900 miles an hour, moving at a million miles a day, in an outer spiral orb, at 40,000 miles an hour, of a galaxy, we call–LA.

Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980 is a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California from October 2011 until April 2012.
For more information please see

Daniel McGrath, St. Louis: contributor
Daniel McGrath is co-director of Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, was co-director of Sweetboy Projects in Los Angeles and has organized exhibitions in St. Louis and the United Kingdom. He is a contributing art writer for Art US, Review Magazine and St. Louis Magazine. He has exhibited his work at Hunter College MFA Studios, New York; Office Space, Los Angeles; SweetboyProjects, Los Angeles; Pirate, Burford, UK; PSTL and Hunt Gallery, St. Louis. He lives and works between Oxford, UK and St. Louis, MO.


Wall Street Journal


A Celebration of Days Gone By

Updated July 24, 2013 5:52 a.m. ET

Los Angeles

The City of Angels has entered the awkward years: no longer young and fresh, not yet old and wise, but now very determined to be taken seriously.

‘Department of Water and Power Building at Night’ (1965). J. Paul Getty Trust/Julius Shulman

Last year’s expansive “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980” included more than 60 exhibitions scattered around Southern California. This summer’s “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.” is smaller but just as ambitious, encompassing some nine institutions with a broadly defined aim to prove that Los Angeles is a fountainhead of modern architectural innovation and creativity.

It’s a rhetorical effort, in part misaimed. First, the postwar period covered by the exhibitions bypasses the heyday of early modernism in America and the hugely influential houses by celebrated architects Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright, whose sublime renditions of climate-friendly modernism such as Wright’s Hollyhock House and Neutra’s Lovell House constitute some of the earliest original designwork to come out of Los Angeles. But organizers wanted a time frame that would parallel last year’s “Pacific Standard Time” art exhibitions and also focus on a less familiar period.

More pointedly, the famously capricious Wright may have dismissed Los Angeles as a “common place” and said that if one tipped the world over, everything loose would land here, but it’s been a long time since anyone disputed the city’s status as a 20th-century design mecca.

Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.

Various venues

The stars aligned to trigger the postwar boom—including a full-fledged aerospace and aviation industry tapping into free-flowing federal funds; a tradition of concentrated power (adapted from Mission days) well suited to the new oil and automobile tycoons; and a supporting cast of Hollywood fantasists, ready-for-hire immigrants and newly arrived searchers for a better life. One developer, Kaiser Community Homes, a former defense contractor, was building 40 houses a day in the postwar years.

“Pacific Standard Time Presents,” sponsored by The Getty, expends much effort debunking the image of Los Angeles as a car-riddled, concrete-padded valley of cloudless despair (or, as Don Draper in “Mad Men” put it, “Detroit with palm trees”). The two major exhibitions, “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990” at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the controversial off-and-on-again “New Sculpturalism” show at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (through Sept. 16) made excellent bookends. (Frank Gehry nearly scuttled the MOCA show by pulling out but was coaxed to return with a new project in China installed its own way in a separate room.)

While “Overdrive” ended abruptly in 1990 for no compelling reason, the MOCA exhibition takes up the torch for all things contemporary, although largely ignoring today’s hot topics of landscape and sustainability. Both draw attention to the high level of concentrated planning and technical innovation underpinning the growth of modern Los Angeles.

People love the Googies, those idiosyncratic roadside attractions seemingly shaped by the whizz of cars— John Lautner, that master of exaggerated form, designed the first ones for Sunset Boulevard in the late 1940s—but the true feats of audacity were the massive infrastructure projects bringing in water and electricity (including the Owens Valley Aqueduct, still the longest in human history, and the Hoover Dam) and the spirit of experimentation. (For the MOCA show, architects P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S created a “textile room” made of Kevlar-like aramid and black carbon-fiber tape as one of three commissioned pavilions highlighting new talent.)

The Getty’s “Overdrive” was impressively foundational—including gems, from the renderings of 1950s concept cars and construction photographs of Howard Hughes’s mammoth airplane, the Spruce Goose, to the urban development plans rejiggered over decades for the ambitious downtown redevelopment scheme known as Bunker Hill, and an array of pre-Gehry submissions for Walt Disney DIS +0.26% Concert Hall.

And it was overdue. The last comprehensive survey of Los Angeles architecture and design was at the University of California, Santa Barbara, art gallery in 1968.

Neither show is as fun as “Everything Loose Will Land” (through Aug. 4) at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House in West Hollywood. Just the right size for pleasurable viewing in one of those early-modern masterworks, “Everything Loose” (its name taken from the Wright quip) celebrates the confluence of artists, architects, gutsy entrepreneurs and avant-garde all-sorts who mixed up work and play to world-attracting effect in the 1960s and 1970s.

Consider 1968’s Billy Al Bengston exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the works by the surfer-biker-renegade artist was installed by Mr. Gehry and the bolts-and-sandpaper catalog was by Ed Ruscha. Or the Century Square Shopping Center, where in 1968 artists Judy Chicago, Lloyd Hamrol and Eric Orr staged “Disappearing Environments,” which involved 25 tons of dry ice stacked into an ancient-ziggurat shape, lighted with road flares, and left to melt as six women in aluminum suits rolled around aluminum balls. Several balls exploded, christening the event as a true Happening.

Developers selling the American dream of one family/one house/two cars played a huge part in building Los Angeles out rather than up. An exhibition at the Hammer Museum, ” A. Quincy Jones : Building for Better Living” (through Sept. 8), is the first monographic show on the architect who designed some 5,000 houses in the postwar years in league with adventuresome developers, including one of the first Case Study Houses, the widely celebrated experiments in modern house design commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine and built between 1945 and 1964. But better tract housing could be a hard sell, as is eloquently told through Crestwood Hills, a Waterloo for progressive design. The original plan developed by a cooperative of homeowners to construct 500 affordable homes bogged down when the Federal Housing Authority resisted subsidizing the buildings because of their modern style. Some 100 were finally built and now sell as highly desirable luxury homes.

Visiting all the shows in “Pacific Standard Time Presents” isn’t necessary—or viable for traffic-wary visitors—in order to appreciate all the ways that Los Angeles proved its design worthiness in the second half of the 20th century. But ultimately the carefully curated shows also feel elegiac, their very existence attesting to a heightened self-consciousness at odds with the ad hoc, low budget, under-the-radar energy of a city coming of age. The excitement has moved on to Asia, and with “Pacific Standard Time Presents” we are left with a great slide show looking back.

Ms. Iovine writes about architecture for the Journal



A Diary of the Getty’s Big, New Exploration of L.A. Architecture

Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Charles Phoenix gives a SoCal Modern architecture slideshow at the Getty’s press event

“The San Andreas is not Los Angeles’ only fault,” cracked architectural historian Thomas Hines at the kickoff to Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.. Hines didn’t really mean it — he was quoting a joke that people from, say, San Francisco might make — but the quip hit just the right tone for the Getty’s new initiative, the infinitely more accessible and laid-back architectural sequel to the serious and self-important art world extravaganza Pacific Standard Time.

Also, unlike Pacific Standard Time, Pacific Standard Time Presents — which some people have taken to calling PSTP, even though it sounds like something one might want to clear up with a few doses of Valtrex — has a much more manageable number of exhibitions and events. This intimate scale makes for overlapping and quite personal portraits of these post-war practitioners, many of whom are still working and popping up in person at events around the city. Where, with free champagne in one hand and my iPhone in the other, I plan to stalk them for the next few months.

Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Deborah Sussman and Paul Prejza, with signage they designed for the 1984 Olympics

On the blustery Monday of the Getty’s press conference, the morning’s highlight was Kodachrome master Charles Phoenix, dressed in a red-and-gold getup that seemed Pantone-coded to the midcentury McDonald’s in his slideshow. Other luminaries in attendance included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — who notably corrected Getty president Jim Cuno‘s pronunciation of CicLAvia: “It’s Cic-LA-via” — and Eames protégée Deborah Sussman, dressed in an outfit every bit as colorful as her graphics for the 1984 Olympics on display. (Later, for the opening, she changed to black but threw on a fuchsia scarf that matched De Wain Valentine‘s own wrap perfectly.)Milling about the architectural models of the Getty’s show “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future,” was L.A. Times critic Christopher Hawthorne, who would rightly note in his review that by sticking to the original PST’s timeframe, the Getty’s show ignores modern architecture’s formative years in L.A. But the exhibit is a fun ride nevertheless, from kooky Googie to postmodern pretentiousness, tracking L.A.’s ascent from a laughing-stock roadside attraction to an agenda-setting global architectural leader.

Across the travertine palace is the more intimate “In Focus: Ed Ruscha,” featuring his photography of the more mundane Modern like gas stations and dingbat apartments. Not only is Ed Ruscha still shooting streets a la Every Building on the Sunset Strip, he’s currently working on the part of Mulholland that’s not paved, meaning he (or, actually, an assistant) has to do it on bicycle instead. That’s certainly something that made bike-riding actor Ed Begley Jr. — also seen at the opening later that night — happy.

LACMA director Michael Govan talks to an attendee at the opening of “Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It”

Down the hill, LACMA opened the first of its two PSTP shows, with Stephen Prina‘s recreations of built-in furniture from two demolished homes designed by R.M. Schindler. In the pleasantly jarring installation, the furniture is painted Pepto-Bismol pink that Prina recalled from a La Brea furniture store. (Actually, it’s Honeysuckle, Pantone’s 2011 “color of the year.”)

Alissa Walker
Eric Owen Moss lectures in the shadow of his Samitaur Tower in Culver City

Later that week, while the Getty and Zocalo pondered “Does Architecture Matter?” — which I would hope it does, if you’re mounting a citywide exhibition about it — KCRW hosted a less existential celebration at the Helms complex. As part of the day’s festivities I led a walking tour of Culver City that visited PSTP peeps like the architect Eric Owen Moss, who gave a lecture (in gym shorts!) at Samitaur Tower in the Hayden Tract of Culver City (the tower is prominently featured in Overdrive).Back at Helms, DnA: Design and Architecture radio show host Frances Anderton moderated panels with PSTP curators Michael Govan, Wim de Wit and Christopher Mount. But the afternoon belonged to Father’s Office restauranteur Sang Yoon, ex-Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard (who are collaborating on a revitalized version of the Helms Bakery) and KCRW’s Evan Kleiman who engaged in a hilarious conversation on modern architecture and food. Major takeaways: Yoon lives in a house by modernist icon Craig Ellwood, no chefs have well-designed home kitchens, and jelly doughnuts are awesome.

Speaking of awesome, add these upcoming events to your datebook: This Saturday is the L.A. Conservancy’s “Venice Eclectic” tour peeking inside Dennis Hopper‘s former residence, Ed Moses‘ studio and the original office of Charles and Ray Eames. Then you can dive deeper into Venice’s Modern legacy with SCI-Arc’s show “A Confederacy of Heretics.” I plan to check it out when I’m at the school for its 40th anniversary bash this Saturday.

Until next time… Stay modern.


Issue 144 January-February 2012 RSS

Pacific Standard Time


City Report

Stretching across 70 museums and galleries, ‘Pacific Standard Time’ is an unprecedented collaboration that traces different histories of Southern Californian art between 1945 and 1980


Robert Kinmont, detail from 8 Natural Handstands, 1969/2009, silver gelatin print

Sam Thorne
Associate editor of frieze, based in London, UK.

Sniping at the Getty’s activities is nothing new. As early as 1977, Joan Didion noted that, ‘From the beginning, the Getty was said to be vulgar […] ritually dismissed as “inauthentic”, although what “authentic” could mean in this context is hard to say.’ So, when ‘Pacific Standard Time’ (PST) – which was initiated and funded by the Getty Foundation – opened at the end of September, the reactions were fun to watch. Taking in around 70 cultural institutions in Southern California, PST is, as the Getty’s catalogue claims, ‘quite possibly the largest visual arts initiative ever’. Discounting New Deal-style programmes, this is surely the case; the collaboration, which runs for almost eight months and focuses on Southern Californian art produced between 1945 and 1980, has few precedents. But there was a derisive note to several of the early responses. Roberta Smith’s review in The New York Times was titled ‘A New Pin on the Art Map’, as though land had just been sighted by pith-helmeted art historians. Condescension was alloyed with the feeling that self-celebration on this scale is gauche or even paranoid – the kind of thing, as Dave Hickey opined, that Denver would do.

Other reactions saw PST as a brazen act of regional boosterism: city-myth production not so different from the antics of Los Angeles’s original boosters – those Downtown bureaucrats and PR men who ruthlessly promoted urban development early last century. But PST is better understood, I think, as recuperative rather than self-promoting, a long-due counterweight to the centrifugal pull of New York in accounts of postwar art in the US. Certainly this is how it was first imagined by the Getty Foundation and the Getty Research Institute in 2001, when the then-unnamed initiative had the relatively modest ambition of locating and preserving the historical record of LA’s art production. This was prompted by a dearth of scholarly books on the subject, made urgent by the fact that many of the artists who had come of age during World War II were growing old. By 2008, what began as an LA-focused archival endeavour had grown to encompass the whole of Southern California and, more dramatically, had developed an extensive exhibition component with a total budget of around US$10 million provided by the Getty. The initiative was to be led by the Getty, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) and the Hammer Museum, but would take in dozens of smaller institutions and alternative, artist-led and commercial spaces.

At this point, any evaluation of PST will be partial in the extreme. This is not only because the programme is less than halfway through, but, with the enormous quantity of background scholarship and parallel publications, a clear sense of its impact is unlikely to be possible for some years. Such is the range and depth of material generated by the Getty’s investment, it’s even likely that our understanding of Southern Californian art will at some point be measured in pre- and post-PST terms. Less optimistically, this one-off cash injection provides a unique opportunity for those institutions which otherwise pay scant attention to marginalized artists to organize something they’d never usually get past the board.

The umbrella title – ‘Pacific Standard Time’ – insinuates a geographical zone that stretches from Vancouver and Seattle to Tijuana, but the focus is almost exclusively on Southern California, with no more than a smattering of Bay Area art. Few people, if any, will be able to see all of these exhibitions, which are clustered in and around LA, but framed by a triangle of outliers a couple of hours’ drive in each direction: down the coast to San Diego, north to Santa Barbara and as far inland as Palm Springs. Over the course of a week, I saw around 25 affiliated exhibitions. Aside from the flagship shows presented by the four lead institutions, these encompassed spaces as diverse as the Robert Venturi-designed Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MOCASD) and a middle school in Santa Monica, the tiny Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Boulevard and a lone mezzanine of the Natural History Museum. Exhibitions are intensely varied in approach, including surveys of movements and tendencies – Light & Space and ceramics, as well as Chicano, African-American and feminist artists – and focuses on individuals as diverse as Sam Maloof and Wallace Berman, Fred Eversley and Barbara T. Smith. Others trace the history of specific sites, such as the Watts Towers Art Center, Pomona College, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives. Whether a greatest-hits show, like the Getty Center’s flagship ‘Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970’, or a tiny, gem-like archival offering such as ‘She Accepts the Proposition: Six Women Gallerists, 1967–1977’ at the Crossroads School, the shared 35-year period and SoCal vicinity links these island exhibitions into an archipelago.

Doug Wheeler DW 68 VEN MCASD 11, 1968/2011, white UV neon light, installation view

There have been a number of major museum surveys of LA art in the last two decades, most notably the Centre Pompidou’s 2006 ‘Los Angeles 1955–1985: Birth of an Art Capital’, which covered a similar period to PST. These exhibitions have tended to present the city as either the polar opposite of New York (a binary Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt were satirizing as early as 1969, in their video East Coast, West Coast), or as a culturally and geographically conflicted anomaly. Implicit in many prominent accounts of LA – from Bertolt Brecht through Reyner Banham to Mike Davis – is its double-status: heaven and hell; Utopia and dystopia. Binary exhibition premises, such as ‘Sunshine & Noir: Art in LA 1960–97’ (1997) at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, follow this line of thinking. They counter a caricatured – and persistent – criticism of LA art as unerringly breezy, the kind of interpretation exemplified by a 1970 Artforum review of ‘A Decade of California Color’ at Pace Gallery in New York, in which the critic complained: ‘It is apparently as easy to rack up in Los Angeles as an artist as it is to be a stringer of beads or an importer of herbals.’ More than any other city, art from LA is remarkably still often understood as a primarily localized phenomenon, conditioned by unblinking light, gleaming automobiles – ‘suggestions for colour on wheels’, John McCracken called them – and the lucky proximity to surf-shop resin experiments, craft movements, Hollywood and the aerospace industry.

Instead, PST visualizes a radically subdivided metropolis that makes such binary or localist readings impossible to sustain. For a long time, the narrative has been dominated by the gifted gang of young men – including Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Ken Price and Ed Ruscha – associated with Ferus Gallery (1957–66), and dubbed the ‘Cool School’ by Philip Leider, who edited Artforum when it was based in LA (Leider had originally wanted the magazine to be called Art West). But, travelling through the PST archipelago, stories become unavoidably more complex, as artists are encountered in wildly different scenes, guises and locales. For example, Bruce Nauman pops up in an exquisite survey of Light & Space at MOCASD as well as in the Orange County Museum of Art’s fascinating overview of conceptual art. Suddenly, the perceptual environments of James Turrell, Eric Orr and Doug Wheeler don’t seem so far removed from the early process-based sculpture of Nauman, Paul McCarthy or Wolfgang Stoerchle, or even from Michael Asher’s first installations. Often-overlooked communities are also well represented: for example, Asco, the Chicano activist art group are given their first retrospective (which is reviewed on page 154 of this issue), while the Hammer has organized ‘Now Dig This!’, a superlative survey of African-American art. The markers that I’d previously used, as only an occasional visitor to LA, to navigate art in the city – Wallace Berman’s obscenity charge in 1957 or the Watts Riots of 1965; John Baldessari cremating his paintings in 1970 or Bas Jan Ader being lost at sea in 1975 – started to become unmoored. If PST has a canonizing impulse, as has been claimed, then it has surely failed. What emerges is so messy and irresolute that the well-told narratives and familiar categories start to break down.

But the framing of PST also reinforces some of the art-historical orthodoxies it is attempting to dispute. ‘Art since 1945’ has been a standard periodization since the 1950s, though I wonder about its particular relevancy to LA. All but a few of the exhibitions in PST feel reluctant to acknowledge the first third of the 35-year period that it has set itself, and none of the key presentations from the four lead institutions touch the art of the ’40s (only the Getty Center’s show strays earlier than 1960). It may be that the main activity in that decade was in the Bay Area rather than in Southern California, and LA’s cultural infrastructure was certainly slow to develop: the Dwan and Ferus galleries didn’t open until towards the end of the ’50s, while the art museums either opened later or – like actor and collector Vincent Price’s Modern Institute of Art in Beverly Hills (1948–9) – were short-lived. In any case, the consistent focus of most exhibitions under the PST umbrella is not 1945–80, but rather the 1960s through to the early ’70s.

One major exhibition – both the biggest and, reputedly, the most expensive that PST has to offer – that does deal with the late ’70s is ‘Under the Big Black Sun’ at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. The show – which is bracketed by Richard Nixon’s resignation and Ronald Reagan’s ascension – includes masses of extraordinary work, though, in its evocation of a vibrant artistic pluralism, it is exhausting as well as enlightening. Highlights for me included early work by Jeffrey Vallance and Christopher Williams, documentation of performances by Suzanne Lacy and Lynn Hershman, and little-known series by John Divola and Robert Heinecken. The crux of curator Paul Schimmel’s catalogue essay is that the pluralism which ‘cohered as Postmodernism during the 1980s in New York effectively codified ideas and concepts made in California between 1974 and 1981’. To claim this period as a forerunner in any theoretical sense must overlook both European critical theory and New York’s own fertile scene. It’s a claim that doesn’t need to be made. But it is perhaps revealing of how acutely felt the decamping was of the so-called CalArts Mafia – former students of Baldessari, including Jack Goldstein, Matt Mullican and David Salle – from LA to New York in the mid-’70s. This collective move to the East Coast – Douglas Eklund once called it a ‘mass migration’ – marks the diminuendo of one strand of PST.

Robert Alexander, John Reed, Wallace Berman, Juanita Dixon and Walter Hopps in the alley next to Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, c.1957

Like museums everywhere, institutions in LA are being forced to broker increasingly Faustian pacts with collectors and corporations, but there is surely hope to be gleaned from a collaboration of this scale. For now, whether PST is regionalist, localist or even boosterist may not matter so much. The more pressing issue is how the research and exhibitions that it has produced can be developed. From wherever you’re sitting, its impact is going to be interesting to watch.

Stacey Allan
Executive editor of East of Borneo, a collaborative online art magazine of contemporary art and its history as seen from Los Angeles. She is based in Los Angeles, USA.

Sometime last year, I came across an interview with the nouvelle vague filmmaker Agnes Varda that touched on her time in California in the late 1960s. The reporter writes that Varda is sometimes reproached for missing the events of May ’68 in Paris. She was, at that time, living in Los Angeles with her husband, Jacques Demy, as he directed his first American feature film. When Varda was asked about regrets, I was moved by her elegant and unapologetic response: ‘[In California] we had flower children, we had love-ins and sit-ins and huge free concerts. What we found was a real desire for brotherhood that was magnificent, that wasn’t just about making demands. I wasn’t [in Paris], that’s all there is to it – but I saw things they didn’t see.’

My own sense of ‘Pacific Standard Time’ is that it is best taken as something along these lines: a simple statement of fact that we, in Los Angeles, saw things that others didn’t see. We had Wallace Berman, Womanhouse (an installation/performance space organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro in 1972) and plastics. We had the 1965 riots in Watts and we had Wet (1976–81), ‘a magazine of gourmet bathing’. Some outside criticism of the project has framed it competitively, as overcompensation by a city that, compared to New York, has historically been the underdog. But to frame it in this way is to be out of step with a looser local objective: to open up new perspectives that complicate the idea of a singular US art history.

The lack of critical attention focused on LA has been much discussed as something that has positively shaped – and to some degree continues to shape – artistic developments here, affording greater experimentation with less fear of high-visibility failure. It also means that the successes, if viewed in this binary way, have been largely unrecorded. Take the work of Senga Nengudi, for instance, who is included in the Hammer Museum’s exhibition ‘Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980’. Nengudi, working with the collaborative group Studio Z (which included David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Barbara McCullough, Ulysses Jenkins and others), staged and documented Ceremony for Freeway Fets (1978) – a largely improvised performance ritual with music and costumes – on an ignored patch of land under a freeway overpass. Nengudi used space, but not in the ‘Light & Space’ sense of the word.

Senga Nengudi Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978, performance documentation

One of the great things about LA’s sprawling geography is that it reinforces the feeling that nobody is looking, either literally or critically speaking. For Asco, a Chicano collective comprising a small group of friends from East LA, that invisibility both enabled and inspired theatrical street performances that were later promoted and distributed as ‘No-movies’ – essentially film stills for non-existent Chicano films, starring themselves. If invisible to the culture industry, though, they were certainly not invisible to law enforcement. Many of their works carry the sense of being undertaken quickly while no one was looking. First Supper (After a Major Riot) (1974) took place on a traffic island on Whittier Boulevard in East LA, not long after the Chicano moratorium, when the area was still heavily policed.

There has been some outside debate around PST’s geographical focus on Southern California – rather than encompassing, for instance, the entirety of San Francisco and the Bay Area. But despite the fact that many artists travelled and even lived for a time in both regions – most famously Berman, George Herms and those associated with the Beats – the two have distinct histories. One has to remember that San Francisco is some distance from LA: criticizing the localism of PST is a little like observing that a show about New York doesn’t cover Buffalo. The regionalism of California, one of the largest states in a country the size of the US, is not a great deal different to the regionalism one can find in, for instance, Western Europe.

Regionalism even exists within the city of Los Angeles itself, and this can be felt in the historical positioning of the various institutions involved. One truth about LA is that there has never been one ‘LA art scene’, but many. Artists communities now seem to be organized less geographically than academically: it is not a city where someone might describe themselves as, say, ‘an artist from Topanga’ or ‘an artist from Venice’, so much as whether they went to UCLA or CalArts or Art Center, and who they studied with. While PST may not leave a lasting legacy in terms of more inclusive exhibition programming in the city, my sense is that a lot will change at an academic level in terms of the diversity of scholarship that happens afterwards. As a result, there will hopefully be more access to, and perhaps more pride in, LA’s rich past as it impacts its present and future.

Artists and volunteers from the Social and Public Art Resource Center working on the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, 1976, colour photograph

It was recently reported that of the more than 60 exhibitions that have been organized, few will travel and none will travel to New York. Sharon Mizota of the The Los Angeles Times has set about the task of seeing all the exhibitions – which is ambitious and admirable – but even most people here in the city won’t be able to see everything, and so much of the show has been mediated through print, through people’s words and perspectives. Like Los Angeles itself, far fewer people will experience PST than will read about it. In the aftermath of PST, a key part of the show’s legacy – after the billboards and advertisements have disappeared – will be the publications and the availability of new research material.

Sam Thorne and Stacey Allan



Print Article

L.A. Confidential

by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

 Pacific Standard Time (PST), the Getty-funded initiative that’s revitalizing the forgotten cultural beginnings of Southern California, reigns this month in the museums and galleries around Los Angeles. The PST focus on the area’s post-war cultural history has inspired a number of galleries to dig into their inventory to present some very intriguing, even surprising exhibitions.

The Box, an unassuming gallery in Chinatown operated by Mara McCarthy (daughter of performance artist turned sculptor Paul McCarthy), has a well-earned reputation for showing tough-minded art from the recent past. Working with the estate of John Altoon (1925-1969), the extremely popular if mentally unstable artist who showed with Ferus Gallery, McCarthy is presenting 40 examples of Altoon’s hilarious, ribald, unsettling drawings. All are 30 x 40 in. and made between 1966 and 1968, just a year before he died at the age of 43. They hang framed on a single wall.

Rendered in a wriggly black line with the occasional splash of color, Altoon’s women, with long wavy locks and voluptuous builds, enjoy playfully erotic encounters with frogs, elephants, monkeys, pigs and, occasionally, men. The phallus appears as an independent entity: a pole for a clothes line, stuck in a shoe, or a lovable pillar for a woman to hug. A modern François Boucher, Altoon made drawings that appear effortless and ebullient. The drawings are $14,000 each. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art plans a retrospective in 2013.

Also in Chinatown, Thomas Solomon Gallery shows three large-scale collages by Alexis Smith. In the 1970s, at the apex of the Conceptual Art and Women’s Movements, Smith combined both influences with a healthy dose of dry wit. Where others turned to semiotics, she used the texts of Raymond Chandler, incorporating snippets of fortune cookie predictions, playing cards and tiny gold stars.

In this show, an entire wall is given over to Isadora (1980-81), collaged elements on a corrugated paper background printed with blue sea and tan mountains, with real starfish attached to the night sky. The sad but true text details the last days of Isadora Duncan. The price is $100,000. Not for sale is a wall sculpture from 1976 consisting of a Plexiglas box containing a pair of paper coffee cups. One cup is labeled “Think” in big dark letters, while tiny letters on the other read, “He Who Thinks, Drinks from the Cup of Fortune.” That’s something to think about.

Cirrus Gallery offers a retrospective view of its own involvement with contemporary art since its 1970 inception. Owner Jean Milant, who trained as a printmaker with June Wayne’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop, published early editions with Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha. For this show, Milant worked with the young artist and curator Aaron Wrinkle to present a survey of highlights from the gallery’s past, along with work by young artists responding to that history.

The first of a four-part series, this show includes a piece that Baldessari originally conceived for the 1972 Documenta: An etching of a pyramid hangs on a blue wall while a time-delay video of the viewer viewing the piece is projected in an adjacent gallery. (Similar works appeared in his recent retrospective.) Milant also got permission from Ruscha to present in DVD format Premium, the 1971 movie directed by Ruscha and starring Larry Bell, Leon Bing, Tommy Smothers and Rudi Gernreich.

Since the movie usually is only available in 16 mm film, it is more legend than something that is actually seen. Based on a script by Mason Williams, with the deadpan humor that is synonymous with Ruscha’s work around that time, it is a real treat. No spoilers here — but it involves a couple, a date at a seedy hotel, and a large salad. These works are not for sale but other pieces are available.

At David Kordansky Gallery in Culver City, Richard Jackson has built a wild environment of stretched canvases turned inward to form a room that he painted with the brightly colored protractors in the same dimensions and hues as Frank Stella’s decidedly cerebral paintings. Jackson is known for performance-oriented installation that have included painting a large number of canvases and stacking them face down atop one another to build absurd towering structures. This show makes fun of modernist pretensions.

Titled The Little Girl’s Room (2011), here Jackson spattered paint over the walls and floor and onto giant toys, such as a jack-in-the-box, a stuffed clown, a rocking horse and an upended pink pony. The overall impression is one of joyful havoc. This installation is sold in its entirety but other individual pieces are available. Prices range from $70,000 to $750,000.

Jackson’s long friendship with Bruce Nauman comes to mind when viewing Negative Numbers (1970-2011), a pair of translucent porcelain rectangles with black numbers written on them, mounted on a table and lit from behind by electric light. The piece is included in an ambitious if uneven collection of oddities titled “Photography into Sculpture” at Cherry and Martin in Culver City. The show restages Peter Bunnell’s 1970 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, which included a number of L.A.-based artists.

Jerry McMillan, an exceptional talent in stretching the boundaries of photography from two to three-dimensions, is represented by Three Boxes, each Plexiglas cube containing black-and-white photographs of a navel, belly and pubic hair. It’s already sold, but similar works are available for $30,000-$40,000. A pioneer of such efforts was Robert Heinecken (1931-2006) and this show includes the mysterious Venus Mirrored, layers of black and white film transparencies and Plexiglas. The price range is $40,000-$100,000.

Such objects are rarely seen here in Los Angeles, and Heinecken’s work in particular has sparked a revival of interest. Petzel Gallery in New York and Rhona Hoffman in Chicago have recently shown it, and it is included with that of Wallace Berman at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. (The Selwyn Gallery, which represents the estate, had a number of Heinecken works made from altered advertising texts and imagery for $8,000 at the Art Platform fair.)

Also in Culver City, Angles Gallery shows the six films of Judy Fiskin, the first time that they have been shown together, as well a selection of her influential and still startling small-format photographs (1982-83) of L.A.’s stucco apartment buildings known as “dingbats.” Why startling? In contrast to almost all photographic work produced today, they are diminutive, just 2¾ inches square, but packed with detail. Their size brings us in for a closer look at the choice of oddly intentional decorative motifs and landscaping for these dumb stucco boxes. Priced at $3,200, these photographs are undervalued treasures.

Later this fall, the Getty Museum is publishing a monograph of her photographs, Some Aesthetic Decisions. Her quirky films, begun in 1997 when a prolonged illness prevented her from continuing to take photographs, question the very nature of esthetic choice and they do so with droll wisdom. 50 Ways to Set the Table, chronicling the decision-making process of a women’s competition at the L.A. County Fair, is art masquerading as a documentary. The films are priced at $5,000 a piece.

Joe Goode’s well-known works, such as a milk bottle placed on a shelf in front of a canvas or a torn blue-sky painting, are included in a number of PST museum exhibitions. But what about the recession-burdened 1970s? In 1978, Goode responded with a stunning series of all-black canvases, painted with evident but subdued brush work, that he slashed and punctured. He did the same with works on paper. Now on view at Michael Kohn Gallery, the paintings are sober but not somber, and evince a compelling gravity.

Goode has a history of painting natural phenomenon such as skies and trees, isolating intense color in a minimal format. These are priced between $85,000 and $100,000, while works on paper are $35,000. Fredericka Hunter of Texas Gallery showed Goode’s new work at Art Platform and recalled showing the “Nightime Series” when it was made. “No one in Texas was buying black paintings,” she laughed.

After darkness comes the light. At Mark Selwyn Fine Art, paintings from the 1950s by Lee Mullican (1919-98) shimmy with effervescence. The artist’s widow Luchita Mullican wrote the introduction to a small catalogue. “The 1950s were very happy times for Lee. It was the beginning of a marriage that would last for half a century. We had our first son, Matt, and life was beautiful and a great adventure.”

Such warm feelings emanate from the paintings, which incorporate all possible shades of gold — marigold, citron, banana, clay. Mullican’s unmistakable patterns are executed with hundreds of tiny lines and dots. Most were drawn from private collections for the show, though two are available, priced at $52,500 each.

The newly renamed Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery makes public the role of James Corcoran, a private dealer quietly involved in James Turrell’s career for many years. The current show is an overview of the artist’s work, and features two projected light pieces. Carn White (1967) manifests what appears to be a 3D rectangle of brilliant white in a corner of the gallery, a solidity that dissolves upon close inspection. The title of the show, “Present Tense,” also refers to a “Space Division Construction” from 1991, a room containing a red field of light that appears to be two-dimensions but, again, dissolves upon close viewing.

The most recent work, Yukaloo, called a “Wide Glass work,” is a coved wall with a panel of pearly glass using hidden LEDs to glow pale blue at the edges and deep rose toward the center. It appears to hover in space and emits an irresistibly seductive glow. The Turrell works, which typically go for $750,000, are all sold.

All of these artists are featured in one or more of the PST exhibitions in museums yet the galleries offer a more intimate experience and an alternative to the institutional view.

HUNTER DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP is the author of Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s (Henry Holt, 2011).

Shotgun Review

From Los Angeles: Selections from Pacific Standard Time

By Shotgun Reviews November 1, 2011

Pacific Standard Time (PST) unites over sixty venues throughout Southern California to address the art scene that emerged there between 1945 and 1980. Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), is the first U.S. public exhibition of Edward Keinholz’s electrifying Five Car Stud (1969–72/2011), which, for me, is the work that conveys the same raw power it did in its initial presentation in Germany nearly forty years ago. Viewers walk within a human-scale installation of inanimate figures in the throes of enacting graphic, racially motivated violence. Car headlights illuminate the scene, while country music provides an eerie background soundtrack. Though it is a fictional depiction representative of racial tensions during the 1960s and ’70s, the work feels anything but distant. Just as Kienholz intended, and to which the curatorial statement alludes, the viewer is implicated. In Speculation: The World of Ed Kienholz, Keith Berwick’s 1971 documentary, which plays in the didactic space outside the installation, Kienholz asks if Berwick will model for one of the perpetrator body molds—a move that visibly unnerves Berwick even as he agrees.

In contrast to LACMA’s less-is-more curatorial model, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) contribution, Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974–1981 attempts to unite over five hundred works by over 130 artists and unfortunately suffers as a result. Though described as a survey and apparently organized thematically, the exhibition proves overwhelming to navigate. While I understand the curatorial impulse to demonstrate a pluralism that speaks to the conflicting cultural zeitgeists during the time period, placement and attention to space is inconsistent in the


Edward Kienholz. Five Car Stud, 1969–72/2011; multi-media installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: Tom Vinetz.

exhibition. Chris Burden’s The Reason for the Neutron Bomb (1979) and Eleanor Antin’s The Nurse and the Hijackers (1977) have ample room to breathe, while Betye Saar’s Secrets and Revelations (1980/2011) and John Outterbridge’s Broken Dance, Ethnic Heritage Group (1978–82) are given inappropriate, awkward treatment in corners next to exit doors. (Luckily, both Saar and Outterbridge have an excellent showing in the Hammer Museum’s PST exhibition, Now Dig This!, and Outterbridge’s solo exhibition at LAXART is not to be missed.) Other works that escape suffocation are a smartly grouped set of engaging works by Ilene Segalove, including The Mom Tapes (1974–78) and Carl Cheng’s Natural Museum of Modern Art (1979–80), a coin-operated public artwork originally installed at the Santa Monica Pier. For the price of a quarter, it quietly invites individuals to patronize the creation of an abstract sand sculpture through a sophisticated, mechanized system. It is, in the midst of the dystopian spirit of much of the other work included at MOCA, a reminder of another, more hopeful spirit from that period—both of which PST aims to resurrect.

Pacific Standard Time is on view at various locations throughout Southern California through February 2012.

Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited is on view at Los Angeles County Museum of Art through January 15, 2012.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974–1981 is on view at Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles through February 13, 2012.

Susannah Magers is an independent curator currently based in San Francisco. She recently earned her master’s degree in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts.

==Wall Street Journal

Laying Claim to Its Place in the Sun

October 13, 2011

‘Don’t be modest,” says a character in Mark Lee Luther’s 1924 novel, “The Boosters.” “It doesn’t pay. We’re all boosters in Los Angeles.” Alas, the city’s history of one booster campaign after another, from railroads, citrus growers and land salesmen, has left Los Angeles—for all the semitropical metropolis’s futurist gazing into the Pacific sun—with an inferiority complex. Through World War II, Angelenos directed their grousing at that small, snootty, ballet-and-opera city up the coast, San Francisco. More recently, the foil has been New York, and the resentment of Gotham is particularly sharp where modern and contemporary art are concerned. So when the lights were doused Oct. 2 on the gala-opening reception for the huge multi-institutional group of exhibitions that make up “Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980” and a son et lumière spectacular commenced on every marbled wall of the Getty Center, it wasn’t long before a stentorian voiceover pronounced, “In contrast to New York Expressionism, artists in Southern California . . .”

‘Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas’ (1963) by Ed Ruscha Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College

Indeed, Andrew Perchuk of the Getty Research Institute has said, “For a long time it was thought that if you didn’t have a significant group of Abstract Expressionist paintings like New York or San Francisco, you couldn’t be a major art center.” The result, according to a Getty press release, is that “Southern California gave birth to many of today’s artistic trends—and yet the immensely rich story of how this came about . . . remains largely unknown.” The hoped-for corrective is “Pacific Standard Time,” a Getty-encouraged, Getty-subsidized (nearly $10 million in grants) collaboration among 60 Southern California institutions resulting in a smorgasbord of everything from handcrafted furniture to hard-edge painting, from guerrilla street performances to sculpture in aerospace materials—all made in California over the past 70 years or so—in shows rolling out over the next six months. With a little rental car and a pent-up urge to drive (I’m an Angeleno transplanted to New York a quarter-century ago), I took a look at about a dozen of the first PST shows, dispersed from Pasadena to San Diego.


Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980

Multiple venues

PST boasts three centerpiece exhibitions—one at the Getty Museum itself, one at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s two locations, and one at MoCA in downtown Los Angeles. “Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-70” (through Feb. 5) at the Getty is an elegant Cliffs Notes introduction. The show includes the sharply poetic, hard-edge abstract paintings (by Frederick Hammersley, Helen Lundeberg and others) that got the Los Angeles scene rolling in the 1950s; a choice selection of spooky assemblages by George Herms, the underknown black artist Ed Bereal (and, as always implicit throughout this account, “and others”); a roomful of big, airy abstract paintings by the not underknown Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis, and an assortment of what, back in the day, was called “fantastic object” sculpture in plastic and cast resin by Craig Kauffman and DeWaine Valentine. And what authoritative Los Angeles show could be without an Ed Ruscha “Standard Station” Pop painting? Certainly not the Getty’s table-setter.

‘Cotton Hangup’ (1966), part of Melvin Edwards’s ‘Lynch Fragments’ series Studio Museum in Harlem

“Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” (through Jan. 22), at both MCASD’s downtown branch and its original La Jolla location, is the most visually satisfying meal on the PST menu. That’s partly because of the nature of the art—lovingly austere and mystically colorful abstract sculpture and atmospheric environments—and partly because the artists (Larry Bell, Mary Corse, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, James Turrell, Doug Wheeler, et al.) were so talented. And boy, were they young! Ms. Corse was only 20 when she ventured into lyrically all-white minimalist paintings (later to be deliciously complicated by the inclusion of highway-sign reflectivity) that make Robert Ryman seem like a Victorian schoolmaster by comparison. Kauffman, with his techno-lush plastic reliefs, emerges as the premiere object-maker of 1960s cutting-edge Los Angeles art. And the best works I encountered in my 500-mile pilgrimage were Mr. Turrell’s “Stuck Red” and “Stuck Blue” (both 1970), two brilliant vertical rectangles of light on separated walls. At first you think they’re merely projections, but then . . . sorry, you really have to see them for yourself. Messrs. Irwin, Turrell and Wheeler, in particular, manipulated light and space to create experiences, instead of objects, as works of art. Their pieces were, in my opinion, Southern California’s greatest contributions to art before 1980.

At the other end of the utopia/dystopia spectrum from “Phenomenal” lies curator Paul Schimmel’s “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981” (through Feb. 13) at MoCA. Mr. Schimmel is fond of dark, borrowed titles. In 1992 he appropriated “Helter Skelter” from author Vincent Bugliosi (who borrowed it from mass-murderer Charles Manson, who borrowed it from a Beatles song) for an earlier MoCA anthology show. It too, exuded nasty sex, nasty violence and a generally Punk take on life (and death) in the Golden State. The current show’s title is taken from a song by “X,” the 1970s Los Angeles Punk band. Some of the same artists are back—Richard Jackson with his antipainting pancake stacks of canvases, Paul McCarthy with residue from his scatologically slapstick performances, and Llyn Foulkes with weird Pop-surrealist paintings.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

One trouble with the exhibition is that a good deal of it unironically consists of the same stuff—dry typewritten reports, deadpan photos, graphs and plans and maps, etc.—employed by the art’s targets: corporations, the military and bureaucrats. (A hilarious exception: Jeffrey Vallance’s funeral documents for a dead chicken, a.k.a. “Blinky, the Friendly Hen,” that he bought in a supermarket). Another drawback of “Under the Big Black Sun” is a feeling that the disaffection is forced. CalArts and UCLA (where many of the show’s artists were students or teachers) aren’t the South Bronx. While dress-up abjectness on the part of artists is OK, the art should look genuine. The show seems like “Helter Skelter Lite,” perhaps because it is part of an otherwise upbeat civic initiative on behalf of Los Angeles art. Still, Mr. Schimmel gets credit for pretty much putting the lie to a New York critic’s estimate of the ’70s Los Angeles art scene as solely “hip young dropout types in Venice, Calif., making baubles for the rich.”

Posturing isn’t a problem with what I’d call the “learning shows” that try to correct the shunting aside of women, African-American and Latino artists during PST’s time period. They make fine use of the Getty largesse: bringing in outside scholars to help with the research, publishing fat, informative catalogs, searching out works crucial to the shows’ theses, and—best of all for a viewer—creating first-class installations. “Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building” (through Jan. 28) at the Otis College of Art and Design, for instance, would probably be an amen-corner jumble were it not for the time, womanpower and scrutiny the gallery was able to give to wall upon wall, and vitrine upon vitrine, of primary source material from the mid-’70s salad days of the women’s movement in the Los Angeles art world.

Just as female artists had more than qualms about proceeding with business as usual in a male-dominated art world (one straw weighing on the camel’s back was the publication of a 1969 calendar with 12 male artists in their cool cars), black artists in Los Angeles found it difficult to fiddle around with perceptual niceties after Watts burned in 1965. David Hammons, an eventual MacArthur fellow who would decamp for New York in 1974, said “I wish I could make art like [James Turrell’s], but we’re too oppressed for me to be dabbling out there.” Nevertheless, enough solid, beautifully aggressive African-American art was made during a 20-year period in Los Angeles for the Hammer Museum to mount “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980” (through Jan. 8), the most arresting show outside the centerpiece triumvirate. It contains several rediscoveries, among them assemblagist Noah Purifoy, whose works are certainly ripe for a retrospective. For my money, the small steel “Lynch Fragments” sculptures of the hardly unknown Melvin Edwards (a Guggenheim Fellow and professor emeritus at Rutgers) are the standout works of this exhibition. They’re compactly aggressive welded-steel amalgams of chains, tools and abstract forms whose crisply channeled anger makes “Now Dig This!” one of PST’s best early-round exhibitions.

“MEX/LA: ‘Mexican’ Modernism(s) in Los Angeles 1930-1985” (through Feb. 5) at the capacious Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach adds to the learning curve. It offers not only requisite glimpses of Mexican-American art, but a prologue of Mexican muralists in California in the ’30s and subsequently influential Anglo artists (such as painter-architect Millard Sheets) who learned so much from them. The show doesn’t shy away from cringe-inducing material—such as clips from Warner Bros.’ “Speedy Gonzalez” cartoons from the ’50s—which makes it a risky, lively mix. “MEX/LA” makes “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987” (through Dec. 4) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art look awfully thin by comparison. To be fair, Asco—a Mexican-American artists’ collaborative including Gronk, Harry Gamboa Jr., Willie Herrón and Patssi Valdez—performed such antics as taping Ms. Valdez to a wall as an “instant mural.” You probably had to be there; small photographic mementos of these thumbs in the eye of the art establishment are overwhelmed by the big Lacma galleries.

Your visit to Lacma will be salvaged by “Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969-1972, Revisited.” It’s the first time this hokey but mesmerizing life-size assemblage depicting a black man’s castration by five rednecks has been shown in the U.S.

Getty money and encouragement has made the installations of some midtier shows first-rate, among them the old costumes and vintage videos of “Los Angeles Goes Live: Performance Art in Southern California 1970-1983” (through Jan. 29) at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, a peaceful refuge on an otherwise semiseedy Hollywood Boulevard, and an exhibition, “Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken, 1961-1976″ (through Jan. 22) at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Berman was a great pioneer assemblagist who made mysterious cabinets with fragments of Hebrew letters and old photographs inside; Heinecken, a not-so-great photographer who turned soft-core porn into montages.

Finally, a mention of “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way,'” at Lacma through March 25. An argument could be made that Southern California’s most significant contribution to modernism besides “Light and Space” art is its own style of industrial design. Bauhaus + beach: Low-lying hi-fi consoles, swoopy chairs, dude-ranch dresses, and those wonderful transparent “Case Study” houses up in the hills.

During my sampling of “Pacific Standard Time,” I saw more than the shows outlined above, but I also missed a few—and obviously I couldn’t check out PST exhibitions not yet open. Nevertheless, my eyes roamed over enough art and plowed through enough catalogs that I can ask a few nettlesome questions about the project. First, how is this vast undertaking supposed to be consumed? The venue of the northernmost PST exhibition, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, is more than 200 miles from MoCA San Diego. Southern California suffers a paucity of public transportation, and the roads are always crammed with cars. A Los Angeles artist remarked to me, “Whenever you get someplace on time on the freeway, you feel like you’ve put something over on somebody.” Only a few dedicated art professionals and academics will manage to see all 70 or so PST exhibitions, and most people only a few.

Second, isn’t PST preaching to the choir? If the Getty and participating institutions want to make the case that modern art in Southern California is right up there with New York’s or anybody else’s, shouldn’t at least the three centerpiece shows be on view at MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston?

Third, is not PST’s very existence a tacit admission of minor-leagueness? (I spent my childhood in a Los Angeles without major-league baseball and can still remember how having to make do with the old Pacific Coast League rankled the adults.) It’s hard to imagine Chicago, whose postwar art also got short shrift in New-York-centric histories of modern art, mounting a “Central Standard Time” campaign.

Finally, it’s been said that generals always fight the previous war. Command Central at the Getty may not have noticed, but the art world has gone global: There are biennials in Korea and Turkey, a huge production and consumption machine in China, and multizillion-dollar museums rising in the Middle East. Contemporary art from India is the current hot item, and South America is champing at the bit.

Of course, these considerations should be more PST’s than mine. I care about seeing good art—no matter how many Hummers in the left lane slow my pursuit of it—and not so much about grand cultural strategies thought up by grand museums. Being able to gaze upon the most gorgeous object that Judy Chicago, one of the founders of the Women’s Building, ever produced—a painted Corvair car hood at the Getty show—and to look at one of Senga Nengudi’s lovely and prescient stretched-nylon sculptures at the Hammer Museum—these are the kinds of experiences that made my sojourn rewarding. A little boosterism is fine, but in the end, who cares which coast has the art-historical upper hand? It’s the art that counts.

Mr. Plagens, a writer and a painter, is at work on a book about the artist Bruce Nauman, to be published by Phaidon.

One thought on “Reviews of the Pacific Standard Times exhibitions in Los Angeles

  1. The museum puts on an annual gala dinner, inaugurated in 2011 featuring entertainment by international artists and hosted by national entertainers such as Angeleno Leonardo Di Caprio (2012). The annual event, the Art Film Gala, is designed to help the museum shore up support from Hollywood leaders. Gala prices range from $5,000 for an individual gold ticket to $100,000 for a platinum table.

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