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October 10, 2011

Some Random Thoughts on 'Pacific Standard Time'

mike rogers pst DSC_0315.jpgVaginal Davis, performing on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Mike Rogers)

About a year ago, when I first heard about "Pacific Standard Time," the massive extravaganza of art exhibits organized by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles to celebrate the city's art production from 1945-1980, I was skeptical. I have a long-standing simple rule: Anything that requires a huge marketing blitz to get its message across probably doesn't have a message of any substance to begin with. And now I have a new rule: Any blockbuster museum show that partners with private galleries mounting officially sanctioned related shows is tainted by the obvious aim of selling artwork and lining a few people's pockets.

Although the constellation of "Pacific Standard Time" ("PST") shows which stretch from San Diego to Santa Barbara officially kicked off this month, several venues opened their "PST" shows weeks ago. I figured that now would be a good time to weigh in with a few observations.

1. I don't plan on seeing all of these shows. First of all, I don't have the time or enough money for gas to get to them all. (I recently heard an art commentator on public radio claim that she had been to every "PST" event so far and planned to attend them all. I suppose that someone had to attempt such a feat, not that it's going to get her in the Guinness Book of World Records, although it likely helped get her on the radio.) Second, there are shows that I have no interest in seeing, such as the one on California design at the L.A. County Museum of Art. I happen to live in a house designed by a famous modernist architect, and I can tell you that it's practically made out of cardboard, which is fine until you try to hang a picture on a wall. Third, if you live in L.A., you've probably seen a lot of this work already. Take Ed Ruscha, the L.A. painter whose work usually involves clever uses of text. I wouldn't be surprised if he's in half of the "Pacific Standard Time" shows. Museums and galleries love him because he's got an edge without being offensive. Over the weekend I stumbled into an art fair that was conveniently held on the opening weekend of "Pacific Standard Time," and it seemed like every third gallery was selling a Ruscha print.

2. When all is said and done, more than 60 cultural institutions will have staged a show, not to mention all those other private gallery exhibitions. Does anyone, even the most ardent L.A. booster, truly believe that this 35-year time period in this city was so important to the development of international contemporary art that it deserves to be recognized with so many shows? Forget L.A. The entire world of art produced during those 35 years doesn't deserve 60+ shows all at once.

3. Why couldn't they have done just one big show at the Staples Center--home to the Lakers? The basketball season is in jeopardy anyway. You could prop up a work of art on each of the 19,079 seats in the arena. Wouldn't that have been more democratic than holding separate shows for African-American artists, Latino artists, and women artists? Doesn't the current "PST" exhibition structure just marginalize these groups? To see the Latino art show you have to schlep down to Long Beach, and no one likes to schlep down to Long Beach. (Trust me, I know. I live there.) I was thinking about this when I attended the opening for "Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980" at the Hammer Museum. It was wonderful to see this group of now elderly Black artists show up for the parties in their honor. They seemed truly happy to be recognized at last by a major art museum in their hometown. Sure, a couple of them, like John Outterbridge and David Hammons, may have made it into "Under the Big Black Sun"--the giant and more prestigious show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). But what about Charles White--one of the greatest figurative artists in the 20th century and a mentor to Hammons, who, in my view, is one of the greatest artists living today? Most people who think they are knowledgeable about art have probably never heard of White, who died in 1979, but whose focus on social justice is just as relevant today as it was more than 40 years ago. Several of his large drawings are in the Hammer show, but he did not make the cut at MOCA. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'm good friends with his son.)

4. Nearly every "PST" show is accompanied by an artist's talk. I heard the artist Pattsi Valdez speak at one of them. She gained attention in the 1970s as part of a collective called ASCO, but has since dropped out of the limelight. She revealed that she was trying to figure out what to do now and was working with students to see if they might inspire her. Such candor is unusual and admirable.

5. Finally, I will say a word about Trespass Parade, a "Pacific Standard Time" event staged on Oct. 2 by conceptual artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and Arto Lindsay, the performer, producer, and experimental composer. I had volunteered for the downtown parade when I heard that a roster of blue-chip artists was going to participate in this action, coinciding with the anti-corporate greed protests at City Hall. "Finally," I thought. "Artists taking a stand and getting out of their studios to march." Except for Tiravanija, who walked the entire route through downtown, I did not see any artists marching, although I've heard some were there and walked the route. (All of them designed T-shirts with provocative sayings like "Do less, be more" and "I'm Pro-Choice and I shoot back." The shirts were handed out to volunteers and other marchers.) I was given the task of driving the lead vehicle--a 2-ton pickup truck carrying speakers blaring Lindsay's deafening music. So, for the most part, I had the unique experience of driving at about 2 mph down the middle of Broadway with no traffic in front of me, while watching exuberant dancing, skateboarding, and other shenanigans in the rearview mirror.

Everything went off with only a few hitches until the parade ended at MOCA, when the parade police escort came face to face with LAPD cops who were moonlighting as security guards for a TV or commercial shoot a few yards down the road. The Hollywood crew demanded that the street be cleared of the riffraff, and a cop threatened me with a fine if I didn't get the truck out of there. When a Hollywood crew stands off against thousands of protestors and paraders, who are angry as hell about the state of the economy, the war in Afghanistan, and other injustices around the world, who do you think is going to win? Well, there was some partying going on in the MOCA courtyard and it was a hot day and the sound system suddenly stopped working. Hey, this is Hollywood after all. Sound. Camera. Action.

mike rogers pst DSC_0325.jpgThe artist Rirkrit Tiravanija in front of MOCA with LAPD in the background at the end of the Trespass Parade Oct. 2. (Photo by Mike Rogers)
October 10, 2011 9:40 AM | | Comments (0)

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