Updated July 24, 2013 5:52 a.m. ET
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.
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.
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.”)
|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
Pacific Standard Time
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
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.
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
|John Altoon, Untitled (ANI-28) (Monkey), 1968, at the Box, Los Angeles, photo by Fredrik Nilsen, © estate of John Altoon, The Box, Los Angeles, and Braunstein Quay, San Francisco
|John Altoon, Untitled (F-7), 1966, at the Box, Los Angeles, photo by Fredrik Nilsen, © estate of John Altoon, The Box, Los Angeles, and Braunstein Quay, San Francisco
|John Altoon, Untitled (F-102), 1967, at the Box, Los Angeles, photo by Fredrik Nilsen, © estate of John Altoon, The Box, Los Angeles, and Braunstein Quay, San Francisco
PACIFIC STANDARD TIME IN LOS ANGELES GALLERIES
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).
From Los Angeles: Selections from Pacific Standard Time
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
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 . . .”
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.
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.
“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.
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.