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May 28, 2010

Overlooked L.A.? The Moment for Carping Is Past

Next year, 25 exhibitions will open in museums and galleries across Southern California, focusing on art made in Los Angeles from the postwar years up to 1980. They will cover the full range of movements that either began in the region or had a strong base there, including Pop, Happenings, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, among others.

Recent L.A. shows, too, have focused on this period. Earlier this year, two galleries exhibited work related to the seminal Ferus Gallery, in which many L.A. artists debuted in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Ken Price, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, and Wallace Berman. A documentary about that gallery, called "The Cool School," released in 2008, is still making the rounds.

The shows next year, part of a Getty Foundation initiative called "Pacific Standard Time," will present important and dynamic work that some people may still feel is overlooked. At the Getty Museum on May 19, three influential artists from the Light and Space movement--Peter Alexander, Helen Pashgian, and DeWain Valentine--participated in a panel discussion at the Getty to talk about old times.

While most of the discussion was about the difficulties and hazards involved in working with plastic resins, which the three helped pioneer, talk also degenerated into complaints about how L.A. art, including their own work, was dismissed for years by the East Coast art establishment. Pashgian recalled how a New York critic panned three concurrent shows by L.A. artists in the '60s, including her own solo show, by

lumping them together as surfer art, even though the resins they worked with came more out of World War II R&D than surfboard technology. She added that a group of New Yorkers once stumbled into one of her shows of resin globes that would often create an illusion of disappearing into the walls. Before they stormed out, they shouted, "Where's the art?" Said Alexander, "The disadvantage of being ignored by New York was from the point of view of commerce. But there was an advantage from the point of view of having fun."

Today, artists from Los Angeles, including some straight out of graduate school, have no problem getting attention around the world. The opportunities available for emerging L.A. artists were discussed on May 20, when the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) announced its lineup for the California Biennial, which opens in October. Of the 45 artists in the show, 32 are from L.A. or San Diego. The exhibition is often a springboard for these artists to international attention. Dennis Szakacs, director of OCMA, said that of the 132 artists who have appeared in the last four California Biennials, 50 subsequently got solo exhibitions at museums around the world and 10 later appeared in a Whitney Biennial.

Szakacs, who came to Orange County from New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art, said that for California artists, New York doesn't matter as much as it used to, since European institutions are showing them more than ever before. And he noted that the New York establishment has been decamping to L.A. in recent years, with Jeffrey Deitch about to start as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Michael Govan having left the Dia Art Foundation for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2006, and Ann Philbin taking over the Hammer Museum in 1999 after directing the Drawing Center.

The New York-L.A. debate is interesting...up to a point. As the postwar L.A. art shows open next year, I expect that there will be many more panel discussions of artists and curators carping about how New York used to look down its nose at L.A. I don't know what that accomplishes. I wish people would just talk about their work.


Guest blogger Mike Rogers, an artist and writer based in Los Angeles, is the author of an illustrated novel about the art world, "The Third Eye," published by Edicions 30/kms of Barcelona. He has been a reporter for Fortune magazine and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, among other publications.

May 28, 2010 12:00 AM | | Comments (0)

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