The UC Irvine art school's role as an academic center on the West Coast for studying and experimenting with radical forms of creativity in the 1960s and '70s will be evident at October exhibitions in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and at UCI.
A roster of star UCI art program alums and teaching artists, who served on the faculty while riding that period's new wave of so-called conceptualism, will be part of three Orange County exhibitions.
The Laguna Art Museum, the Orange County Museum of Art and the campus's University Arts Gallery all will present exhibitions showcasing or encompassing the works of artists noted for their contributions to the Southern California arts scene from 1945 to 1980. These include UCI graduates Chris Burden and Barbara T. Smith, radical artists who both belonged to the highly-regarded Class of 1971, the first to graduate from UCI's master of fine arts program.
The three O.C. exhibitions will happen under the banner of "Pacific Standard Time," an unprecedented regional collaboration among museums and art institutions and organizations stretching from Los Angeles to San Diego, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs. PST officially starts this weekend, and focuses on Southern California's impact on American art from the post-war years until 1980. The Getty Research Institute and Getty Foundation initiated this collaboration, with the foundation underwriting it through $10 million in grants.
Tony DeLap, a Corona del Mar artist and retired UCI professor who was among the pioneers of the campus's arts program in the mid-60s, said it came as no surprise to him that so many names associated with the department — which, later on, became the Claire Trevor School of the Arts — would figure so prominently in three of the four Pacific Standard Time offerings in O.C.
"What came out of it [the period] was an arts department that — certainly for a short period of time — was the most advanced contemporary arts university program that was unique to the nation," said DeLap, 83.
He came to Orange County in 1965, when John Coplans, the UCI studio art program's first director and co-founder of Art Forum magazine, recruited DeLap to join him here from the Bay Area.
"It was a very interesting period for art and for UCI, and — considering the location — it was quite amazing," DeLap added, alluding to how the program flourished by fostering cutting-edge art and drawing renowned artists and future stars to the new University of California campus in conservative Orange County.
The Laguna Art Museum's PST entry, dubbed "Best Kept Secret," is themed around UCI's role in the development of contemporary art in Southern California from 1964 till 1971. A members-only opening is set for the evening of Oct. 29. The exhibition will open to the public on Oct. 30 and run through Jan. 22.
"It was an amazing hub of these professors and out of that came this wealth of students," said Grace Kook-Anderson, curator of exhibitions at the museum, 307 Cliff Drive. "What's quite remarkable is that a high volume of those students are still practicing artists."
"State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970," is the name for the Pacific Standard Time program at the Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. The exhibition, which opens on Oct. 9 and continues through Jan. 22, will be unveiled to members-only on the night of Oct. 8.
“State of Mind” will feature conceptualist and performance artworks from that period by 62 artists, including a body of work by Chris Burden not seen in public since 1971, organizers said. Burden is known for conceptualist performances, such as the 1971 piece in which he was shot with a live bullet, and one in 1974 where he crucified himself with nails on the back of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Karen Moss, who is curating the OCMA exhibition, said that, in addition to pieces by Burden, the museum will display works by four other noted artists who came out of UCI: Gary Beydler, Nancy Buchanan, Barbara T. Smith and Alexis Smith.
"By the late 1960s, the UC Irvine (UCI) Studio Art Department … had become an important educational institution known for faculty and students interested in Conceptual art, light and space, performance and video," Moss wrote in a chapter of a book that catalogs "State of Mind."
The exhibition's portion that includes material from UCI-trained artists focuses on the period from 1970 to 1972, Moss said. It covers the UCI Duchamp Festival of 1971 and the F Space Gallery in Santa Ana, started by Burden and other UCI students. In 1972, the Newport Harbor Art Museum collaborated with F Space in putting on the "New Art in Orange County" exhibition.
And, on the campus that produced such artists, Class of '71 MFA and performance artist Barbara Smith, now 80 years old, will return to her alma mater to headline "The Radicalization of a '50s Housewife" exhibition UCI's Pacific Standard Time entry. The exhibition, will go from Oct. 6 through Dec. 3, and an opening reception, which is open to the public and free of charge, will take place at the gallery on the night of Oct. 5.
"The Radicalization of a '50s Housewife" pays tribute to Smith's July 1981 performance in Santa Monica. Titled "Birthdaze," she performed it on the day she turned 50. Smith enrolled at UCI in 1969, while in her late 30s.
The 1981 performance told the story of her life as woman freed from the bondage of being a housewife, who had been married at age 20 and confined to a materially well-off existence in Southern California, according to Juli Carson, an associate professor of Studio Art who is the school's gallery director.
The performance contained nudity. In the third and final part, Smith engaged in Tantric sex in front of a live audience with Victor Henderson, a noted painter and founder of the LA Art Squad Mural Group. The union symbolized Smith's feminist liberation in transcendental harmony with the male-dominated Avant Garde art movement, Carson explained.
This time around, Smith is expected to remain clothed. However, Carson still recommends parental guidance as footage of the 1981 performance will be shown.
If You Go
For details about "Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980" exhibitions and programs at the Laguna Art Museum, the Orange County Museum of Art, UCI's University Art Gallery, and elsewhere in Southern California, go to the PST website or go to the websites of LAM, OCMA and UCI's Claire Trevor School of the Arts.