PST, A to Z: ‘Greetings from L.A.,’ ‘CrossCurrents’ at the Getty Center
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Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.
Since the Getty initiated Pacific Standard Time, its flagship exhibition, “Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970’ seems like a natural choice for art lovers with limited time: it’s a broad, historical survey, that as Christopher Knight points out, not only confirms but solidifies L.A.’s place in the annals of art history. Yet, by stating upfront that it features only “painting and sculpture,” it acknowledges that it covers only one part of L.A.’s vibrant postwar art scene. While the show aims squarely for posterity, it also tacitly recognizes that the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture were no longer the be-all-and-end-all of art.
In fact, in some ways, “Crosscurrents” can be seen as illustration for the stories told in “Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics, 1950-1980,” on view in the much smaller galleries of the Getty Research Institute. Drawn from the GRI’s archives, it features art works, photos, correspondence, and other documentation of the scene that swirled around and beyond the works featured in “Crosscurrents.”
Wallace Berman’s textured, mixed media works appear in the larger exhibition as examples of assemblage, but “Greetings” gives us a fuller picture, documenting his 1957 show at Ferus Gallery, which was raided by the LAPD vice squad on charges of obscenity, his publication of the Beat art and poetry journal Semina, and his involvement in a circle of folks—including George Herms, Russel Tamblyn, and actor Dean Stockwell—who sent intimate little works of art to one another through the mail.
This evidence of the various ways in which art circulated and became known is the show’s chief focus. Although the first section of the exhibition is dedicated to the early gallery scene, it reminds us that even these more formal venues were built on personal networks and relationships. There’s a remarkable note that Robert Irwin wrote in the 1970s for Giuseppe Panza, the Italian collector whose holdings later formed the core collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Irwin made a list of must-see artists (and their phone numbers) for Panza, including Chris Burden, Michael Asher, and someone named “John Baldasarie.”
The show also reveals how artists, even those not commonly regarded as “political” artists, responded to the hot-button social and cultural issues of the day. The poster for the 1961 “War Babies” exhibition at Huysman Gallery was so controversial that it led to the gallery’s closure. It depicted the four artists in the show—Ed Bereal, Larry Bell, Joe Goode, and Ron Miyashiro—seated around a table draped with the American flag. The men, all from different ethnic backgrounds, are each eating a stereotypical food (watermelon, a bagel, fish, and rice, respectively). But the letters of outrage that the gallery received were more incensed about the flag being used as a tablecloth. The image provides a different context for the work of an artist like Bell, whose sleek, smoky glass cube in “Crosscurrents” is associated with the Light and Space movement.
Judy Chicago is represented in “Crosscurrents” by a car hood painted with her trademark interpretations of male and female forms, a work that seems a bit staid compared to the documentation of “Womanhouse,” a pioneering exhibition of feminist art that she organized in 1972 at CalArts. Particularly delightful is a photograph of Robin Weltsch’s “Kitchen” installation adorned with Vicki Hodgetts’ “Eggs to Breasts,” in which sculptures of fried eggs morph into disembodied breasts as they seem to parade up the kitchen wall.
The show also sheds light on aspects of the L.A. art scene that don’t really surface in “Crosscurrents.” In a video interview with curator John Tain, Barbara T. Smith discusses how the performance work she and fellow student Chris Burden engaged in at UC Irvine dealt with issues similar to those Chicago addressed in “Womanhouse,” but was more individually driven and focused on the body. There’s also a brochure and a letter (on hotel stationery) from “Al’s Grand Hotel,” a performance piece of sorts, in which Allen Ruppersberg opened an actual hotel in a house for six weekends in 1971. The letter is very matter-of-fact, detailing the hotel’s amenities (bar, continental breakfast, daily maid service) and the prices of the rooms ($15-$30). Contemporaneous with Gordon Matta-Clark’s café-as-art, “Food,” in New York City, it provides important historical context for similar outings by younger artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija and Carsten Höller.
“Greetings” culminates with documentation of the Peace Tower, a six-story tall, scaffold-like structure that sculptor Mark di Suvero built with several other prominent artists in 1966 to protest the Vietnam War. Located on Sunset Blvd., not far from what was then Gallery Row on La Cienega, it featured hundreds of 2-foot square panels painted by artists from all over the world. It had to be constantly defended from vandalism and only lasted 3 months, but it certainly suggested that although the boundaries of art had expanded to include just about anything, “painting and sculpture” still had something to say.
Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., (310) 440-7300, through Feb. 5. Closed Mondays. www.getty.edu
Photos, from top: Judy Chicago, ‘Car Hood,’ 1964 Credit: © Judy Chicago, 1964. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Acquired 2007 with means from The Second Museum of our Wishes. Photo © Donald Woodman
Joe Goode, designer, Jerry McMillan, photographer, Poster for the ‘War Babies’ exhibition, Huysman Gallery, 1961. Credit: The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © Joe Goode. Courtesy Jerry McMillan and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica
Allen Ruppersberg, ‘Al’s Grand Hotel’ Brochure, 1971. Credit: Gift of Michael Asher, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © Allen Ruppersberg