A city once thought to have less culture than a bowl of yogurt, Los Angeles is challenging that notion with an epic exhibition, Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.
Ten years in the making, PST was initiated by the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation and Getty Research Institute with a $10 million-dollar grant to 68 museums and galleries in southern California, making it the region's largest ever cultural collaboration.
The mammoth event opened at the weekend and runs for six months. It includes numerous exhibitions covering topics as traditional and diverse as pop art and sculpture, home design, cars and performance. Backers hope it sheds light on the unofficial story of the Los Angeles' art scene and gives people a comprehensive look at early trends and new voices previously muted by the art world establishment.
One thing I've been wondering about 'PST' is whether or not it will in fact rewrite the history of 20th Century art by actually challenging that singular narrative, said painter Judy Chicago. That's what we want to see, real diversity.
The post World War Two period covered by the exhibition is a critical one that brought a spotlight to new names like Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn and Judy Chicago.
In Europe and New York, artists were rebelling against a monolithic establishment teaching a long line of 'isms' -- fauvism, cubism, modernism, all the way to abstract expressionism. Artists in California were unburdened by tradition and found references elsewhere.
The post-war economic boom created a consumer society reflected in the sculptures of Ed Keinholz and George Herms, who used junk and other found objects to make The Librarian (1960), a collection of papers, books and a wooden box.
Car culture, of course, is evident in works like Car Hood by Chicago, painted on the hood of a 1964 Corvair, and Freeway, by Vija Celmins, a photo-realist painting of a dashboard view of a freeway.
NEW WAYS OF THINKING
As industry sprang up in the region, new materials and technologies became available to artists like Norman Zammitt who employed logarithms in consultation with experts at the California Institute of Technology to produce the bewitching colors of North Wall, featured at the Getty Museum.
Artists like Larry Bell and De Wain Valentine used resins and plastic coatings developed from the aerospace industry to create transparent sculptures and floating plastic cubes.
With the proliferation of television in the 1950s and 1960s came a tsunami of popular culture. The influence of Hollywood can be seen in the wide compositions of Ruscha and the staged happenings of Chicano artist Gronk, a co-founder of 1970's conceptual art group, Asco.
Asco, which is Spanish for 'nausea,' was Gronk's visceral reaction to seeing friends returning from Vietnam in body bags. The group was famous for staging happenings and photographing them. They called them 'No Movies' -- films made without the use of celluloid.
One day he spotted a taxidermy cobra snake in a penny store. Oh my God, he gasped. The No Movie Awards for people who do not make film! He took the snake home, spray painted it gold and, he ironically notes, It's now in a plexiglass box at the L.A. County Museum of Art!
Emerging Latino voices like those of Asco are given due consideration by PST, as are African Americans featured in Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980.
Following the Watts riots of 1965, Artists started to think about their social space differently and drew on materials that reflected that kind of chaos, notes the Getty's Catherine Taft.
The rising voice of feminism is articulated by the work of women such as Chicago who was fed up with being told females couldn't be artists. Founder of the first Feminist Art program at California State University in Fresno, she came west looking to reinvent herself in the classic American tradition. Thus, Judy Cohen became Judy Chicago.
A lot of the L.A. artists in the 1960's had underground names. Ed Ruscha was Eddie Russia, Larry Bell was Ben Lots and I was Judy Chicago, she recalled.
More information on PST can be found at the website www.pacificstandardtime.org.