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California Dreaming: Pacific Standard Time in L.A.

Pacific Standard Time at MOCA: Under the Big Black Sun, California Art 1974-1981

Of the many changes of landscape after the Second World War, one of the most culturally notable was the shift from Paris to New York as the leading center of artistic innovation. It is a textbook event that dominates art history of the period, eclipsing developments in other regions just as at one time the Florentine artists of the Renaissance overshadowed their contemporaries in other centers.

Of the two great American coastal cities, it is undoubtedly New York that has been the most recognized arts town. But as Los Angeles continues to grow as a unique center for the visual arts, giving us institutions like the Getty Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, and the planned Broad Museum, the city is becoming richer as a destination for art enthusiasts. And there is no better time to visit L.A. than now if one is interested in the way cultural institutions shape their own civic identity and create their own history.

Pacific Standard Time–a title that sets apart the West Coast as being in its own cultural time zone in a way that reminds us of the way quirky California is set apart from other areas in our imaginations as a place where there is a particular kind of indigenous lifestyle framed by the sun, the surf, and the entertainment industry– is more than just a museum exhibition, it is a city-wide phenomenon. It is also an exhibition (sub-titled Crosscurents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-70) at the Getty Museum that examines the development of art in Southern California during the post-war period, which is on view in the Special Exhibitions Pavilion (through Feb. 5) as well as three other smaller shows throughout the Museum and Research Institute (various dates). However, it is also a collection of 69 exhibitions and 151 events in museums, art schools, galleries, libraries, and archives throughout the Los Angeles area that encompasses more than 60 institutions, making it an unprecedented cooperative endeavor of a city to investigate its artistic roots, initiated by the Getty Research Institute and much of it sponsored by the Getty Foundation.

While the Getty has some of the familiar standard bearers of this period, like Ed Ruscha, Ed Keinholz, Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, Alan Kaprow, Frank Gehry, John Baldessari, Robert Irwin, David Hockney, and Judy Chicago, it features somewhere around 74 artists, representing a wide array of period talent. Categories explored include Happenings and Performances, New Processes, California Hard Edge Painting, Assemblage and Collage, Sculpture and Ceramics, and Pop Art, making for a diverse viewing experience in terms of both medium and style. The smaller exhibitions are devoted to artists and audiences during this period (drawing on the collections of the Research Institute); the making of De Wain Valentin’s Grey Column (organized by the Conservation Institute); and L.A photography (from the Museum’s Department of Photographs). The big show was organized by the Research Institute with the Museum, a testimony to the spirit of collaboration among the different entities that make up The Getty Center.

Other museums have also contributed major retrospectives to Pacific Standard Time. Most notably MOCA has mounted an exhibition, Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974-1981, that includes over 500 objects. LACMA has two focus exhibitions, one feauturing Edward Keinholz’s Five Car Stud and another devoted to the group of Hispanic artists known as Asco, as well as a large-scale survey: California Design 1930-1965: Living a Modern Way, which includes more than 300 objects. While the diverse cultural communities throughout Los Angeles are treated in the larger exhibitions, there are also a number of special exhibitions that highlight the contributions of particular groups. The Hammer Museum, for example, has mounted an exhibition called Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 and the California African American Museum features an exhibition also devoted to African-American artists’ contributions called Places of Validation, Art and Progression. The Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA has organized three exhibitions about the place of Mexican and Chicano artists in the L.A. scene, one of which (Chicano Art Organizations, 1965-1980) is at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. The Museum of Latin American Art has also mounted MEX/LA: Mexican Modernism in Los Angeles, 1930-1985. Cruising the Queer Archive: Queer Art and Culture in Los Angeles, 1945-1980 is a set of exhibitions at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives and in their Gallery and Museum. There are also exhibitions devoted to women artists and gallery owners and to Japanese and Chinese American artists, among others.

Besides this strong pluralistic undercurrent, there are exhibitions that examine different areas (San Diego and Pasadena, for example), movements, monuments, organizations, themes, and media. There are also plenty of monographic exhibitions treating a single artist and installations of individual works of art. To plan your visits and for more information visit the official Pacific Standard Time website and the website of the Getty Center.


The Tate's David Hockney, "A Bigger Splash," 1967 (at the Getty Museum)