Pacific Standard Time

Weegee. The Gold Painted Stripper, 1950.

The LA Galaxy

What immediately struck me on visiting the various outposts of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980, a catchall label for approximately 60 shows dotted around Southern California, was the existence of artists I barely registered, or even heard of, while studying–and otherwise living–in LA for over a decade (1993-2004). I felt like a prodigal astronaut returning to a home planet, only to find the planet wasn’t at all how I remembered it. My ignorance, dear reader, ought to be pardoned because LA’s art production resembles nothing less than a galaxy of 100 billion stars, 100,000 light years wide, bulging in the middle 16,000 light years thick.

All the familiar stars in the familiar constellations were there at the Getty’s four exhibits and MOCA’s Under the Big Black Sun: Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Chris Burden, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Richard Diebenkorn and David Hockney. Some of my school chums worked in these star’s studios and went on to form a second, third and fourth generation of LA art production. These inclusions dutifully mapped out the heavens as well as any astronomy textbook might be expected to do so.

However, more obscure light and space artists like DeWain Valentine, with his six-ton resin monolith sculpture, Gray Column (1975-76), or conceptual painter Joe Goode, whose burned and cut-up canvases–such as Torn Cloud 73 (1972)–had been on the periphery of my consciousness at the time, steal the show at the Getty. These figures also seem to anticipate the rise of “corporate-abstractionist” art, by the likes of New York’s Garth Weiser, or environmental artists, like Olafur Eliasson, working decades later and are perhaps more relevant to today’s painters and sculptors than their more famous cool school colleagues. The curators at work here are justifiably redefining the recent past.

Celestial bodies just outside the acceptable charmed solar systems of the art world explode conventional notions of how LA art got to be the way it is today. Turns out that Weegee called LA home for a time and produced a massive corpus of work there. Weegee’s crass sense of humor displayed in Naked Hollywood, MOCA’s extensive survey of his grotesque starlettes, comical drunks and hysterical fans, successfully tops everything shown at Under The Big Black Sun. Indeed, it suggests Weegee was the original bad boy of LA art. With a crooked smile and a sardonic eye for the foibles of the everyday Angeleno, Weegee identified LA as “Newark with Palm Trees,” and he proved it–his camera doesn’t lie. Even if it was a bit vindictive, Weegee documented the golden age of LA with all its blemishes.

Then the redefinition gets more complicated–LA has a multicultural art history, too. The Hammer’s Now Dig This!, curated by Kellie Jones surveys the production of African-American art in approximately the same period–1960 to 1980. Her work serves as an archaeological dig to an almost lost world. Neglected reputations resurrected for a broader public include: Daniel LaRue Johnson, Melvin Edwards, John Outterbridge, along with the better know artists David Hammons and Betye Saar. (Expect to see this show roll up in New York sooner rather than later.) UCLA’s Fowler Museum and LACMA flesh out the Chicano scene. Judith Baca, Carlos Alvarez, Gronk and ASCO present a completely different LA from the one you see in the movies–you will not be disappointed.

If you catch the various exhibits, ponder the magic of a city that rips down and reinvents itself every decade, like a supernova flaring up and burning out. Just remember you are standing in a city that’s evolving, revolving at 900 miles an hour, moving at a million miles a day, in an outer spiral orb, at 40,000 miles an hour, of a galaxy, we call–LA.

Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980 is a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California from October 2011 until April 2012.
For more information please see www.pacificstandardtime.org

Daniel McGrath, St. Louis: contributor
Daniel McGrath is co-director of Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, was co-director of Sweetboy Projects in Los Angeles and has organized exhibitions in St. Louis and the United Kingdom. He is a contributing art writer for Art US, Review Magazine and St. Louis Magazine. He has exhibited his work at Hunter College MFA Studios, New York; Office Space, Los Angeles; SweetboyProjects, Los Angeles; Pirate, Burford, UK; PSTL and Hunt Gallery, St. Louis. He lives and works between Oxford, UK and St. Louis, MO.

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