Issue Number: 112
Los Angeles celebrates four decades of its extraordinary artistic output with a festival staged across 60 venues. Edmund Fawcett takes a road trip to discover the highlights
David Hockney RA, 'A Bigger Splash', 1967. On show in ‘Crosscurrents in LA’ at the Getty. © Tate, London 2011/© David Hockney. Great cities and their art stamp each other. It is hard to picture the art of LA in another setting. Beach and mountain, Hollywood and aerospace, outsize street signage, canyon-perched houses, freeway interchanges, sun and light: LA has a unique mix of fantasy, civil engineering and nature, which some hate but many love. What is odd is that, though the setting is familiar, the art that came out of this city from the middle of the twentieth century is less familiar, and unfairly so. Perhaps it is that LA is far away, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and desert on the other. Being out on an edge by itself may also explain the fertile originality and free spirit of its art. The city could do its thing – things actually, for LA is nothing if not diverse – without Paris, New York or London looking over its shoulder.
For a lover of the city, it is exciting to be able to preview an astonishing, multi-venue festival of mid-to-late twentieth-century art produced in and around LA – Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-80 (PST). It encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, video, performance, installation, murals, land art, architecture and design, in a happy indifference to genre hierarchy typical of LA art generally. Spanning more than 60 museums and institutions across southern California, this is truly a celebration of art in its natural and man-made setting. Hire a car – preferably a convertible – avoid freeways and take two essentials: the Thomas Guide: Los Angeles & Orange Counties and Gebhard & Winter’s An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles. As you drive from show to show, you will see outstanding natural beauty and perhaps the best core sample of twentieth-century architecture anywhere.
Two big survey shows set the scene. Crosscurrents in LA at the Getty above Westwood, focuses on painting and sculpture of the 1950s and 60s through the work of 50 artists, including David Hockney RA. The Getty inspired PST and seeded it with $10m. The other survey, Under the Big Black Sun at the Geffen Contemporary, focuses on art of many kinds from the 1970s by 125 artists, with a theme of revolt and the rejection of authority.
Ed Ruscha Hon RA, 'Nine Swimming Pools', 1968. Part of ‘Backyard Oasis’ at Palm Springs Museum. Ed Ruscha Studio. These two shows would be the core of PST if it had a core. But the festival, like the city, is scattered and democratic. It includes much art that people will associate with LA: art preoccupied with ‘cherry’ -– the gloss finish you find on custom cars and surfboards; art in new materials, especially plastics and anything transparent, smooth or shiny; art that plays with imagery from ‘the industry’ – Hollywood – and art that is laid back, cool or simply playful. PST, though, also includes far more in much greater diversity, reminding us that such ‘stereotypes’ of LA are useful only up to a point.
Among five shows at LA County Museum of Art, a highlight is California Design: 1930-65. It showcases two Austrian émigré architects, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, who created a landmark style of modernist, indoor-outdoor domestic housing. It also shows the design couple, Charles and Ray Eames, famous for their lounger chair. Downtown the GRAMMY museum’s Trouble In Paradise has photography from the West Coast jazz and pop scene 1945-75.
A few blocks away from LACMA on La Cienega Boulevard at the LA Nomadic Division (LAND) a show called Perpetual Conceptual pays homage to the Eugenia Butler Gallery, an alternative space that epitomised LA’s open-minded attitude to the far-out and far-fetched. They showcased Lawrence – ‘The piece need not be built’ – Weiner and other late 1960s conceptualists.
In Pasadena the Norton Simon Museum’s Proof: the Rise of Printmaking in Southern California shows graphic works by among others, Ed Ruscha Hon RA, Mel Ramos and June Wayne printed at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, which Wayne founded in 1960. The workshop brought a tradition of fine-art printing to southern California, luring artists such as Joseph Albers and Jim Dine.
Michael Childers, 'The Hockney Swimmer', 1978. Part of ‘Backyard Oasis’ at Palm Springs Museum. Collection of Michael Childers. Southwards down the coast, Long Beach’s Museum of Latin American Art shows Mexican Modernisms, 1930-85 mixing the classic artists such as muralists Jose Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros and later Mexican modernists working in LA. In Exchange and Evolution the Long Beach Museum of Art, a pioneering centre for video art, shows its impressive international collection in a historical survey of the medium, with works by stars such as Bill Viola and Marina Abramovic. At Newport Beach, the Orange County Museum of Art surveys 1970s conceptual and performance art in State of Mind which includes a rarely seen installation by Chris Burden, a pupil of Bruce Naumann. Both teacher and pupil were part of an extraordinary constellation of artists who studied or taught at University of California at Irvine and which is the focus for Best Kept Secret at the Laguna Art Museum.
If you drive desertwards through Riverside to Palm Springs, Seismic Shift at the California Museum of Photography at Riverside notes a telling change in how photographers have viewed the Western landscape, from the nature-romanticism of Ansel Adams to the disenchanted eye of Lewis Baltz and the New Topographics movement, which focuses on man-made landscape. Backyard Oasis at the Palm Springs Art Museum (a fine building in its own right) celebrates the Southern Californian swimming pool in photography.
More awaits besides in Santa Barbara and San Diego, as well as in LA. You may now want a swim - and a holiday. But you will not forget this unprecedented retrospective of a diverse, creative era. Be warned: the publicity says PST lasts six months yet the shows almost all have their own dates and many end far earlier than March.
Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980 venues across Los Angeles, October to March, 2012, www.pacificstandardtime.org
Click here to view a map of the exhibitions mentioned above