By Marina Cashdan | September 30, 2011 | Lifestyle
Stage II, 1958, by Karl Benjamin
|8 Natural Handstands, 1969/2009, by Robert Kinmont|
Perhaps there would be more anxiety in my work if I lived in New York,” quipped legendary Pop artist Ed Ruscha about choosing to live and work in LA. This coastal measure for measure has long existed in the milieu of postwar-art practice in the United States, where the Abstract Expressionism movement in New York has been regarded as the impetus and heart of the postwar American art movement.
But starting last month, Angelenos are showing the world Southern California has been just as critical within the canon of American art history as its rival coast. “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945– 1980,” an expansive region-wide project initiated through $10 million in grants from The Getty Foundation along with sponsors including Bank of America, will present the artistic evolution of Los Angeles by way of more than 60 institutions in Southern California, hosting more than 60 exhibitions and public programs that explore every facet of the area’s rich contemporary art scene between 1945 and 1980.
Andrew Perchuk, deputy director of The Getty Research Institute, codirector of “Pacific Standard Time” (with Joan Weinstein of The Getty Foundation) and cocurator of the exhibition “Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970” at The J. Paul Getty Museum, offers insight on four shows he feels represent a cross-section of the “PST” initiative.
“‘Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970’ covers the earlier part of this era of Los Angeles art,” says Perchuk, who cocurated the exhibition with Rani Singh, senior research associate at The Getty Research Institute. It offers a focused examination of painting and sculpture of the period between the 1940s and mid-’70s, when artists were exploring new approaches to art-making, new techniques and tackling subjects beyond the figure and narrative. This newfound freedom resulted in the assemblage sculpture, hard-edge paintings and large-scale ceramics of the 1950s; the development of iconic Pop images of the city in the 1960s; and the conceptual and material contributions of Light and Space art and process painting that was the art of the 1970s. The latter is represented in a body of works by pioneering artists of the time, including David Hockney, Vija Celmins, Bruce Nauman and Ruscha, as well as lesser-known (but equally important) artists such as DeWain Valentine, Wallace Berman and Betye Saar, among many others.
“The conceptual art show ‘State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970’ picks up exactly where ‘Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970’ leaves off,” says Perchuk, moving on in the chronology of the Los Angeles art scene, “from the objects—paintings and sculptures—[included] in the ‘Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents’ show to types of non-objective art and conceptual art and related practices that followed.”
|Take Back the Night, 1978, by Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz-Starus|
|No Time for Jivin’, from the Containment Series, 1969, by John Outterbridge|
LA Art Through the Years
Co-organized by Orange County Museum of Art and University of California Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), the show is comprised of early works by the most important conceptual artists of the time, including Chris Burden’s surveillance installation Being Photographed, Looking Out, Looking In, February 4-20, 1971, where the artist began to shift the audience’s attention from what the artist creates to the artist himself as subject or quasi celebrity. It also contains the most complete documentation ever presented in a museum of Bonnie Sherk’s street performances Sitting Still Series (1970), which grew from the idea that one could change a site by inserting oneself into it (the artist took her armchair to various San Francisco locations, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the financial district); and never-before-seen-in-California archival photographs from William Wegman’s studio, recently discovered at the BAM/PFA, among others. By this time, the LA “art scene” is reflecting the “freedom and liberation specific to this close-knit group of artists,” says Perchuk.
“Where the Orange County show ends in about ’74 is where the MOCA show ‘Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981’ picks up, looking at the things going on in the later ’70s, like the connection between punk music and the visual arts,” says Perchuk. Focusing on 1974 through 1981, this exhibition deals with the strong feelings of anti-establishment in America at the time, which resulted in arts movements that were challenging political institutions and the status quo, making way for new and divergent genres and mediums of art, as well as new modes of production and dissemination. Connected by the reactionary nature of art-making during this politically heavy time, the styles seen in this exhibition range from decorative art and representational painting to conceptual performance art, public demonstration, documentary video and staged photography.
The Singular LA Art Scene
But while the aforementioned exhibitions cover more overarching developments in the Los Angeles scene, many exhibitions included in “PST” focus on very particular niche art movements that are little explored but crucial to American art history, according to Perchuk. One example is “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which is “the first real survey of Light and Space art.” The artists highlighted in this show made objects or architecture that played with the reflection and refraction of natural and artificial light to create environments that required heightened sensitivity and awareness from the viewer. Set up as one exhibition that spans both the museum’s galleries—La Jolla and Downtown—“Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” includes pigmented-wax drawings by Peter Alexander, studies for light pieces by Ron Cooper, lyrical watercolors by James Turrell, and detailed renderings by Doug Wheeler—some of which are being exhibited for the first time.
Though LA’s art scene was a developing scene in itself, Perchuk insists it was also crucial to the development of modern and contemporary practice nationally and internationally. “You can’t tell the story of postwar art in the United States or even internationally without a significant role given to artists in Southern California,” he says. “The history of modern and contemporary art looks different when seen from a West Coast perspective.” For more information, visit pacificstandardtime.org.
photography by gerard vuilleumier (stage 11); bill orcutt (8 natural handstands); BY MARIA KAWAS (TAKE BACK THE NIGHT)