Getty Foundation grants put Southern California in spotlight

The Getty Foundation will award $3.1 million in grants to 26 arts institutions for their roles in “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” a bonanza of exhibitions coming to Southern California in fall 2011.

The grants nearly double the foundation’s financial commitment to the exhibitions. Most of the grants, to be announced today at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, will support art shows and catalogs initiated by an earlier, $3.6-million round of Getty research and planning grants.

“It’s exciting to be moving this project into the public phase, when we will see the fruits of many years of behind-the-scenes work,” said Deborah Marrow, director of the foundation, the philanthropic arm of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The collaborative venture will construct an enormous patchwork quilt of Southern California’s post-World War II art history in museums and galleries from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Composed of exhibitions such as “California Art in the Age of Pluralism, 1974-1980" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, “Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building” at Otis College of Art and Design and “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980" at the Hammer Museum, “Pacific Standard Time” is designed to illuminate a vibrant art community long overshadowed by its East Coast counterpart.

For Hugh Davies, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, it boils down to this: “An opportunity for a critical mass of institutions, all focusing on our art history from 1945 to 1980, to finally bring a little bit more balance between the East and West Coast in accounts of what happened during this period.

“It’s great that the Getty has the vision and perspicacity to do this,” he said. “And I love the fact that we are not waiting for someone else to do it. We are doing it ourselves. And who better to tell our story?”

At his museum, a year of exhibitions about California’s Light and Space movement will begin with “Phenomenal,” including works by Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Douglas Wheeler, Mary Corse and Ron Cooper. A $225,000 research grant helped the museum to hire curator Robin Clark and launch the project. A new Getty grant for the same amount combined with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Luce Foundation will implement plans for a scholarly catalog and a series of installations.

“This is far and away the most extensively researched group of exhibitions we have ever been able to undertake, and we are not going to squander the opportunity,” Davies said. “When the history of Light and Space is rewritten, I think the significance and groundbreaking nature of what these artists were doing with phenomenology and perception and their influence on a younger generation will be understood.”

At the Hammer, a $200,000 research grant kick-started a major project on African American art in Los Angeles, enabling the museum to consult with artists, curators and scholars, conduct oral interviews and hire a research assistant along with guest curator Kellie Jones, a specialist in the subject who teaches at Columbia University.

“This is a show that fits us perfectly, shining a light on overlooked and under-acknowledged artists,” Hammer Director Ann Philbin said of “Now Dig This!” “But we wouldn’t have been able to do it right without the grants.”

Jones has traveled widely to find works by artists such as Noah Purifoy, John Outterbridge, David Hammons, Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger. A new grant of $250,000 will help fund the exhibition and document it in a publication.

“Pacific Standard Time” is rooted in a 2002 joint initiative of the Getty Research Institute and the foundation, Marrow said. The goal of “On the Record,” as it was called, was to save Los Angeles’ art history by locating and preserving archives squirreled away in closets and storerooms or headed for trash bins.

“It was only after we had been giving grants for the archives for several years that everyone involved began talking about discovering amazing stories that would make great exhibitions,” she said. “At that point we began working with partners to do something bigger. That led to the research and planning grants, which -- once it became clear that there were exhibitions we wanted to support -- led to the current round of grants.”

The research grants, given in 2008 and 2009, ranged from $60,000 to $239,000. The awards to be announced today run from $50,000 to $275,000, with the largest going to institutions that will publish catalogs and, in some cases, present two or three shows. All the recipients must provide part of the funding for their projects.

Twenty-three of the 26 grantees received research grants. The new arrivals -- the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino -- will use their money to plan and realize exhibitions.

The Getty Museum, though not a grant recipient, will present one of the most sweeping shows, a survey of L.A. painting and sculpture from 1945 to 1970. Among the grantees, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will offer a major study of California modern design and a retrospective of ASCO, a Chicano performance and conceptual art group. The Long Beach Museum of Art will focus on video art; the Palm Springs Art Museum on Southern California photographers’ images of swimming pools.

Art made of clay will be the subject of shows at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona and Scripps College in Claremont. The University Art Museum at UC Santa Barbara will explore Cliff May’s architecture.

The 26 grantees are planning to present 29 exhibitions, but that’s not all. Eight “programming partners,” including the Skirball Cultural Center, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Norton Simon Museum, are developing self-funded events.