The unprecedented Southern California initiative known as Pacific Standard Time (PST) was officially inaugurated on the evening of October 2 at the Getty Center. An extravagant sound and light show worthy of the Acropolis splashed over the J. Paul Getty Museum’s architecture to begin the festivities. Viewed from the arrival plaza, it was spectacular indeed. Guests were then invited for a first view of the exhibition, “Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture 1950-1970”.
The Getty Museum is among over 60 institutions across Southern California that is collaborating to celebrate and to examine the Los Angeles art scene between 1945-1980. The birth of the initiative began modestly in 2001 when the Getty Research Institute launched an oral history project to preserve the recollections of artists, gallery owners and other key players of the period. Subsequently the project grew, gathered momentum and eventually exploded in scope, content and ambition. The Getty Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the J. Paul Getty Trust, funded the effort through $10 million worth of grants. In addition to encouraging fresh scholarship, the goals are to raise the profile of Los Angeles as a global visual arts destination and to attract a broad new audience to venues throughout the region. Individual artists’ careers and their contribution will inevitably be re-evaluated upward and a rewrite of the region’s historical significance will ensue.
MUSEUM EXHIBITIONS: Getty Museum
The exhibitions around L.A. each offer a different slice of the story, a unique perspective or interpretation. “Crosscurrents….” at the Getty is a delicious overview, featuring many of the key players with mostly excellent examples of their work. The story moves succinctly from hard-edge paintings, assemblage sculpture, and large-scale, abstract ceramics of the 1950’s, to iconic pop images of the city in the 1960’s to the Light and Space works of the 1970’s. Pivotal work by Lynne Foulkes, Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Craig Kaufman, Ron Davis and many others fill the spaces. The exhibition ends too soon with the feeling of wanting to see more.
Museum of Contemporary Art
The MOCA show, “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981”, is a sprawling survey featuring the pluralistic art practices that flourished across the state during the period. It includes 130 artists with over 500 art objects. The show acknowledges the multiplicity of directions and individualism as well as the political climate and social milieu that framed artistic production. However, the breadth of concepts and processes and the number of artists make the show feel cumbersome. Among the pieces to admire is Bruce Connor’s mesmerizing video, “Crossroads”. It explores the haunting beauty and horror of the 1945 atomic bomb explosion at Bikini Atoll in slow motion. It is both enthralling and relevant. Many other pieces in the show are of their time but seem to have lost their resonance.
“Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” is a comprehensive exhibition that explores the pioneering legacy of L.A.’s African American visual artists. From the moment one enters the show, the sense of vibrancy is palpable. Engaging work by artists like Noah Purifoy and John Outterbridge, who have been off the radar screen, shine brightly. More familiar artists like David Hammons and Betye Saar are represented by some of their best works. The show is contextualized by politics and social norms of the day. But it also weaves the artists into the larger fabric of the city’s art scene by emphasizing their relationships with artists outside the Black community. The show is everything PST set out to do – it’s fresh, it educates and it makes a significant contribution to the field.
Los Angeles County Museum
Although the period has been well explored elsewhere, “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” at LACMA is the first major museum study of California mid-century modern design. The show explores the state’s influence in shaping material culture across the country through furniture, ceramics, metalwork, fashion and industrial and graphic design. From Barbie & Ken to Heath Ceramics to the Oscar statue, it is a ride down memory lane. The exhibition encourages the idea that these innovations developed organically out of a desire to choose modernity. It emphasizes a postwar optimism and a cooperative spirit, manifest in pieces like the his & hers bathing suits adorned with oversize lobsters. A highlight of the show is a re-creation of Charles and Ray Eames 1949 steel-framed house in Pacific Palisades. The actual contents of the Eames’ living room is on view as the home is currently undergoing renovation.
Santa Monica Museum of Art
“Beatrice Wood: Career Woman – Drawings, Paintings, Vessels and Objects” injects the Museum with the energy and vitality of the woman herself. Born into high society, Wood lived in Paris and New York before coming to Los Angeles. She was an actress, a seminal figure in the Dada movement, a Theosophist, and a dedicated artist. The exhibition is both a scholarly and commemorative evaluation of Wood’s prodigious career. The ceramics with their amazing luster glazes were the highlight of the objects on view for me. Her long life of 105 years (1893-1998), characterized by challenge and invention, offers a lasting lesson as well.
Fowler Museum at UCLA
While not a PST exhibition, this museum round-up would be incomplete without mentioning the remarkable Jose Bedia retrospective, “Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work” at the Fowler Museum. The show explores the artist’s spiritual journey anchored in his Cuban-based religion and its central African source, as well as his examination of the beliefs of indigenous American peoples. The power and intensity of his work is amplified by the simultaneous exhibition he curated from the Museum’s extraordinary permanent collection. In addition, the exhibition curators installed pieces from Bedia’s personal collection of objects that inform his work. Altogether the eloquent presentation bristles with an earned wisdom and a conviction in realms beyond the everyday.
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