LAWeekly — September 23, 2011
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Fall Art Preview
Andrew Berardini

Pacific Standard Time celebrates L.A., a cultural wasteland that became an art capital

In case you hadn’t heard, there is art in Los Angeles — and a lot of it.

With more than 60 exhibitions by museums, gobs more by commercial galleries, a performance festival and a post-punk parade to wend its way down Broadway, this ginormous art initiative called Pacific Standard Time, officially kicking off Oct. 1, attempts to grapple with the emergence of L.A. art from 1945 to 1980.

The idea is to document the development of L.A. from a cultural backwater to the international contemporary art capital you’re still maybe not convinced we are. Funded with $10 million from the Getty (which recently spent $45 million on a single Turner painting, but who’s counting?), Pacific Standard Time will attempt to show the circuitous, messy and often awesome gaggle of artists that makes L.A. significant.

Historically, Los Angeles has been a great and shitty place to be an artist. Far enough away from New York to avoid its self-centered grandstanding, Los Angeles has nurtured all the things and people that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. But there were never that many art galleries, and the ones that were here had a tendency to ignore art that wasn’t slick and sellable. For years, it took a European or New York imprimatur for L.A. to pay attention to its own.

As a result, many of the best artists were usually broke, and for years Southern California gave all these freaks and weirdos, visionaries and misfits cheapish places to live and work, as well as jobs teaching. The likes of John Baldessari, Allan Kaprow and Catherine Opie could do whatever they wanted and not have to think too hard about whether it could sell. They could be free and funny and loose.

We can talk about trends and movements, from light-and-space and punk rock to aggressive ’70s performance art, but to try to form some coherent structure is to miss the point of L.A.: There isn’t one.

Frank Lloyd Wright once famously said, “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” What I’m sure Wright meant as an insult is to me a great compliment.

PST can’t possibly define Southern California art. But perhaps it can get you to a museum or two, or imbue the city with the legends that make otherwise capable future law school grads dream of rubbing their naked bodies with ketchup before assembled guests for a living.

PST throws down the gauntlet that art in L. A. is no longer becoming but has finally become. I’m not entirely sure if we’re better off now than in the long years of seemingly benign neglect. Galleries and museums proliferate, space is not quite as cheap as it used to be, and a whole lot of those artists who come to school here have a crushing student loan debt that almost forces them into making money via premature careers. But perhaps that’s why it’s sweet and fitting to look back on what got us here.

I just hope that, now that Los Angeles is a serious art city, we don’t start taking ourselves too seriously.

CAN I HAVE YOUR AUTOGRAPH ... PETER VOULKOS?

Five young artists and the L.A. legends they idolize

BY CATHERINE WAGLEY

Fandom typically involves frivolous pursuits like Dodger dogs or Comic-Con nerdery, but for artists it’s practically a necessity. Try to find an artist who wasn’t motivated by the work of someone older, who gave them a glimpse into how provocative, eccentric or sincere art could be, and odds are you’ll be stumped. Maybe the best artists make work so well-timed it leaves the past in its wake, but even those pioneers usually start out as big fans. For this reason, Pacific Standard Time feels like a Hall of Fame ceremony, or a Justice League of L.A. art superheroes, all back in full force. And it’s the young artists they influence who may appreciate this gathering most of all.

Here, five L.A. artists who came of age long after that 1945-1980 PST window talk about the icons who informed their art-making.

SURF PUNK LIKE ME

Drew Heitzler on Billy Al Bengston and Ed Bereal

“Growing up a surf punk on the East Coast in the ’80s, Southern California was a magic kingdom,” says artist Drew Heitzler, whose video work riff s on the freewheeling SoCal stereotype but also tries to dig beneath the surface of California cool. “Every band I listened to, every video I watched, all the clothes I wore seemed to come from that place. It makes sense, then, that as I got older, and started making art, Los Angeles would be the place where I located my aesthetic.” Works from two ’60s artists strike Heitzler as particularly evocative of the magic kingdom’s light and dark sides.

“Buster by Billy Al Bengston and American Beauty by Ed Bereal operate like history painting for me, even if one is a sculpture,” he explains. “It’s all there: surfing, cars, motorcycles, jazz, rock & roll, shiny on top and oily underneath.” Bengston’s sleekly sprayed lacquer painting and Bereal’s dustpan-shaped wall piece, which superimposes a swastika over a U.S. flag, also suggest the ominous return of the war technologies that California exported during World War II but kept as a part of its political landscape even after the war ended. In the work of these two artists, “You can see the war coming home to California in the form of choppers in sunset skies and tanks in the streets of Watts.”

Ed Bereal’s American Beauty (1965) is in “Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture 1950–1970,” at the Getty Museum, Oct. 1-Jan. 5. His work also will appear at the Laguna Museum of Art. Billy Al Bengston’s works will be at the Getty, Norton Simon and other museums.

HOW I INVENTED “KITBASHING”

Glenn Kaino on John Outterbridge

Glenn Kaino began “kitbashing, ”a term he coined to describe his distinct assemblage approach, before he knew what it was. He’d take pieces from model-making sets you’d find at hobby shops and mix them up to make unexpected hybrids.

The work of John Outterbridge showed him these model mash-ups could be art. One of the first shows Kaino saw after he arrived here as a student in the early 1990s was an Outterbridge retrospective at the California Afro-American Museum. Outterbridge, a force in the black arts movement in 1970s Los Angeles, had just retired after 17 years as director of the Watts Towers Art Center. “The idea of being so generative with found material, model-mashing and being interested in the form but also having a political energy, all resonated with me,” Kaino says.

Jive Ass Bird, an almost anthropological collection of white objects made of metal, cloth and leather straps, is one work from the show Kaino distinctly remembers. “Because I’d seen his work at such a formative moment, Outterbridge spoke to me more than Rauschenberg, for instance. It really set a precedent for my own work.”

In the years since, Kaino’s kitbashing has become increasingly ambitious, uncanny and mammoth — he’s given a taxidermied goat alligator skin and constructed a 20-foot “Transformer” out of fiberglass fragments of iconic bridges. Though impressive as objects, these sculptures exist mainly to alter people’s experience of the world, something Outterbridge consistently did through his art and through his infectious persona.

“For Outterbridge and a lot of artists of his generation, the images and objects were secondary” to how they lived, Kaino says. “Spend just five minutes with them, and you’ll learn more than you would from any book about their art.”

John Outterbridge’s Jive Ass Bird (1971) is in “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980,” at the Hammer Museum, Oct. 2-Jan. 8. Work by Outterbridge is on view at LAX Art through Oct. 22 and will be at Watts Towers Art Center, California African American Museum and other venues.

BOWLS AREN’T JUST FOR CORNFLAKES

Rebecca Morris on Peter Voulkos

Painter Rebecca Morris was a kid in Connecticut in the 1970s, the daughter of a ceramics teacher in a house where Ceramics Monthly and The Studio Potter were the most readily available reading material. It was in one of those magazines that Morris discovered bold California sculptor Peter Voulkos. “I just remember these forms that weren’t functional,” she says. “They riffed off traditional vessels, but they were too heavy and awkward to hold.”

Voulkos trained as a traditional potter in the early 1950s, but over time his pots and bowls become more and more amorphous and impractical.

“It’s hard working with clay because you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Morris explains. “Voulkos embraced that. It’s funny, when I first saw the photograph of Little Big Horn” — a 1959 stoneware vessel — “it looked like it could have been one of the bronze sculptures he started making later.”

It can be hard to identify the sculptor’s materials because he switched things up often, trying different kinds of kilns or dramatically shifting the scale of his objects. This constant flux resonates with Morris, whose own work has an organic unsteadiness to it, as if the confluence of shapes, textures and colors on her canvases was a happy accident. “The older you get, the more you know about what you’re doing. But Voulkos was always trying to undo himself. His aesthetic is rough, never perfect. My own aesthetic dovetails with his slop.”

Peter Voulkos’ Little Big Horn (1959) is featured in “Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture 1950–1970,” at the Getty Museum, Oct. 1-Jan. 5. His work also will appear at the American Museum of Ceramic Art and other museums.

NORTHWEST ROCK BUDDIES

Noah Davis on Llyn Foulkes

Driving between Malibu Canyon and his studio recently, Noah Davis noticed how intensely the rock formations along the road resembled the textured landscapes by artist Llyn Foulkes. “He paints L. A. the way it actually feels,” says Davis, also a painter, and it’s Foulkes’ work that compelled Davis to begin a series of large-scale rock paintings he has yet to exhibit.

Davis grew up in 1980s Seattle, just a few hours north of Yakima, where Foulkes grew up in the 1930s and ’40s. “I understand where he comes from, and maybe that’s why I feel he captures the specific feel of geography so well,” says the young painter. “He’s one of those artists who are a little less predictable, but it looks like he’s finally getting his due.” In addition to Foulkes’ dense, mixed-media landscapes, Davis admires the way he embeds actual wooden frames into his paintings, so that his subjects, like the disfigured man at the center of Money in the Bank, are boxed in by an extra set of walls. “At first, his portraiture seems like it’s straight on, but it never really is. He makes it seem like there’s still room to do something original.”

Llyn Foulkes’ Money in the Bank (1977) is featured in “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974–1981,” at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, Oct. 2-Jan. 13. His work also will appear in exhibitions at the L.A. Municipal Gallery, Pacific Asia Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art and other museums.

FEMINIST PERFORMANCE ART, NOW INSPIRED BY FACEBOOK

Dawn Kasper on Womanhouse

“It’s so difficult doing things alone,” says Dawn Kasper, a performance artist who co-directs the Chinatown alternative-space Human Resources L.A. Her collaborative performances spurred her interest in Womanhouse, a live-in, monthlong performance project spearheaded by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro in 1972. Chicago, Schapiro and their students transformed an abandoned Hollywood mansion into a labyrinthine artwork that explored gender politics, individuality and friendship and reclaimed domestic space. “It was all women, they fixed up the house themselves, and a lot of them had not even used power tools before,” Kasper says.

For PST, Kasper is creating a virtual Womanhouse, collaborating with a Web designer to build a social network that will be a forum for artists’ conversations, updating gender-identity issues for 2011. “What does it mean that the computer has become a kind of home?” she asks. Human Resources will host some events, but most interaction will occur online.

As with the original Womanhouse, heady ideas will be tossed around, but community is ultimately the point. “There were lots of meetings, deliberation and talk about what the work would become,” Kasper says of the original. “I found that process to be very inspiring.”

Womanhouse (1972) is featured in “Greetings From L.A.: Artists and Publics, 1945–1980,” at the Getty Research Institute, Oct. 1-Jan. 5. Performances for Kasper’s virtual Womanhouse will occur during the PST Performance and Public Art Festival, Jan. 19-29.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

L.A. ART LEGENDS ON HOW THEY CAME TO BE

DEAD MAN AND A HOT DOG STAND

BY CHRIS BURDEN

I moved from Boston to attend Pomona College. After I changed my major from architecture to sculpture and started building big things outdoors, I decided to stay in California. I realized if I went to graduate school back East, I wouldn’t be able to work outside in winter.

In L.A. back then, there was maybe one-fifth as many artists as there are now. A small group of ex-graduate students found a little space on the Venice Boardwalk and we worked on it the whole year, planning to use it as an exhibition venue. At the end of the year they all lost interest and I inherited the space. It had been an empty hot dog stand. The landlord lowered the rent to $80 a month from $90 because the former renter was a drug dealer. At the time, there were two major artist enclaves, Venice and Pasadena. The beach artists were closer to the Hollywood crowd, and the Pasadena artists had bigger studios.

A good friend of mine lived on Navy Street in Venice. My studio was on Oceanfront and Brooks. I could call him from my studio, get on my bike and be at the front door of his studio before he could walk there from his living quarters at the back. On Market Street there were Larry Bell, Rob Irwin and Rob Cooper. Between Market and my studio were probably 30 artists I knew, and within a small radius probably 100 or 150 artists. You didn’t have to drive for an hour to socialize.

I felt the Venice art community was tremendously supportive; they were my intended audience. Ed Moses and Tony Berlant gave me valuable advice on marketing my first salable object, a handmade book of my performance photos. Chuck Arnoldi enabled us to rent the hot dog stand that became my studio. He also encouraged Riko Mizuno to give me my first exhibition in L.A. — my performance Deadman in 1972.

Deadman took place at 8 p.m. on Nov. 12 on La Cienega Boulevard. I lay down and was covered completely with a canvas tarpaulin. Two flares were placed near me to alert cars. Just before the flares extinguished, a police car arrived. I was arrested and booked for causing a false emergency. The trial took place in Beverly Hills. After three days of deliberation the jury failed to reach a decision and the judge dismissed the case.

I have a much bigger public now. The range of works I’ve done is broader. You don’t have to be an art connoisseur to “get” Urban Light, my sculpture of lampposts in front of LACMA.

—As told to Marissa Gluck

Chris Burden has been an L.A. conceptual and performance artist since the 1960s.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM MALE CHAUVINISTS

BY JUDY CHICAGO

I was raised in a family that believed in equal rights for women, which was very unusual for that time. The bad news was they never bothered to tell me that not everyone else believed in that, too. In 1957, when I went to UCLA, I first began experiencing sexist attitudes. Whenever I tried to bring gender up, I was met with derision. People would say, “What are you? Some kind of suffragette?” In order to make a place for myself in the L.A. art scene, I had to excise from my work any hint of gender. And I did.

I used to hang out with the Ferus Gallery artists at Barney’s Beanery. I was practically the only woman on the scene, and Billy Al Bengston was the first real artist I ever met. Much to his chagrin, I used to follow him around. Years later, I ran into Billy Al at a party. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years, and I said, “I really want to thank you. Even though you gave me a lot of shit, I did learn something from you.” He said, “I know, Judy. It’s because I was such a male chauvinist that you did everything you did.” I burst out laughing. I said, “Don’t take all the credit.”

All through the ’60s, I was told, “You can’t be a woman and an artist, too.” Well, what was I supposed to do, saw myself in half? By the end of the decade, I was sick and tired of it.

I met with the head of the art department at Cal State Fresno. I said to him — and this happened to be true, just not the whole truth — “I’m concerned about the paltry number of women who come out of graduate school and start their own art practice. I want to do something about that.” But I knew I was planning to start a feminist art program. Though I’m not sure the term “feminist art” had even existed before that.

I wanted women students who wanted to be artists, and I wanted to take them off -campus. After a couple months, the studios just exploded. In the spring, we had an exhibition and a whole lot of people trekked up to Fresno from CalArts. John Baldessari came, and years later one of my students told me that he stuck his boot in the crotch of a sculpture of a prone woman spread-eagled. CalArts offered to fund the whole feminist art program, and in the summer of 1971 there was a caravan: Me, my students, their boyfriends, their husbands, their pets — we all moved to L.A.

I talk about how unbelievably sexist Los Angeles was, but there was also an incredible feeling of self-invention there that allowed people to imagine alternatives. That I could imagine an alternative like a feminist art program? I don’t think that would have been possible in the East.

—As told to Catherine Wagley

Judy Chicago is a renowned feminist artist and educator.

HOW DIVORCE CAUSES PERFORMANCE ART

BY BARBARA T. SMITH

In those days, while I was at the Chouinard Art Institute, I would bump into guys like Ed Ruscha or Joe Goode or Jerry McMillan. This was in the late ’60s, when I had a studio in Eagle Rock. And they were all very cute and fun and often hustling me. I’d be expecting them to have good manners, but here it was, the ’60s! And all of that went out the door.

It was both fun and hard to manage. But it was a great adventure. And at last I was doing what I loved to do: making art. The performance ideas I had really bugged me because I didn’t know what they were. There was no name for performance art then. Some of these pieces were hilariously funny and others were very profound and scary.

For instance, I was feeling terrible concern because I was raised as a protected, middle-class woman, with the expectation that I would be taken care of by a husband. Now that I was divorced, there was no way that was going to happen, and I didn’t have the skills to cope. So I did a sequence of pieces where I made a metaphor out of plants that were raised in a nursery (called Plots, in 1969) . If you planted them in a field, they would never survive. I bought really hearty plants, ground-cover plants. I went and planted them in fields in Costa Mesa, Pasadena and Eagle Rock. I hoped they would survive but doubted they would. And, of course, none of them did.

At that time I was no longer doing traditional art and I completely lost touch with the guys I’d originally hung out with. My new group was involved in performance art, and we weren’t going to art shows anymore because our work wasn’t in galleries. So I lost my art context, even though I was immersed in a new one. And I lost my marriage context. And I was losing my children. Luckily I had a good sense of humor — which is pretty important — but I had nothing else. I must have had great faith in myself.

I have hardly ever sold anything. There was nothing to sell. But it’s happening now. The museums are becoming interested in figuring out how they can buy a performanceart piece. We’re lucky to have saved artifacts and documentation, because these were unrepeatable moments in time. When it was over, poof! It was gone.

—As told to Tibby Rothman

Barbara T. Smith is a performance-art pioneer who co-founded the legendary experimental gallery F-Space in Santa Ana.

ART TAKES BALLS

BY BILLY AL BENGSTON

For me, the heyday was in 1959. It was before the Ferus Gallery moved across the street, in the days when Ed Kienholz and Walter Hopps ran it. At that time, art was taken very seriously in terms of being an artist, and not as a profession. We all worked like sons of bitches. There was nothing else to do. We were the beach group, we stayed at the beach, and on break time we’d go surfing.

We believed that there’s no such thing as good art or bad art. Art is art. If it’s bad, it’s something else. It was a much, much harder line in the ’50s and ’60s than it is now, because the idea of art education didn’t exist — they didn’t have a fine arts program when I was a kid. If they did, they didn’t have teachers who knew anything. Art is something you can’t teach, but you can inspire it.

We were bare-knuckle artists. You got your ass kicked all the time if you didn’t come up to the point — they all tried to kick mine. It was definitely a boy’s club back then. You had to be good, and you had to have balls, and I didn’t know any girls with balls then. In the arts scene there were female artists, but very few of them.

We worked on an extremely reduced financial budget. Every cent went toward the cost of production, and most of our dialogue was about keeping your integrity and your wheels. It was carpool times. It certainly restricted the amount of feminine appeal we could get, although I’ll say we did very well, considering the circumstances.

It took a while for us to acknowledge that our influences, instead of coming from the West, came from the East. We were primarily subtropical- and Oriental-based. The art from the East is influenced by nature and touch. That comes from being more attuned to the environment. It’s pretty simple — you can live out here and not die on the streets when it gets cold. When I was romanced to go to New York, I said, “Who are you kidding? I’m not going to that shit hole.” There’s a scent here that’s different, and you lose a lot of those sensations when you’re put in inclement climates. As a result, the real art of the time became real, nonobjective art. I think John McCracken cracked through that, Craig Kauff man did, I did. Even Ron Davis, Kenneth Price and Bob Irwin. We made art that was just art.

—As told to Sophie Duvernoy

Billy Al Bengston is an artist and sculptor who lives and works in Venice. A seminal figure in the 1960s Los Angeles arts scene, he draws much of his inspiration from the ocean, motorcycle racing, surfing and the East.

I’M NOT CREATIVE. REALLY

BY ED MOSES

At one point, while other artists in the Ferus Gallery were doing all these adventurous things, I was compulsively directed toward making these drawings — repetitive pencil marks. I guess I thought that if I pressed hard enough and long enough, some magical phenomena would take place. Something would appear.

I did one with just nothing but marks — 40 by 60. I did four of those, took me almost a year.

One afternoon, I came home and my wife said, “Go out and pick up the kids at the park.” So I pulled them out of the back of my station wagon — I was taking them to the framer the next day. When I came back, the garage door was open and the gardener had come in and hosed the whole thing out.

The water had trickled up about a third of the way into the panels. I should have just cut that part off . Instead I destroyed them.

When I did the resin paintings it was down in Venice, around the early ’70s. I had a studio that I built right in front of a paddle tennis court. I did them in this outside working area because I knew it was so toxic.

I built a big platform, covered it with linoleum, and then put a rain gutter around it. It must have been around 10 by 12 feet. Then I put Mylar, a kind of film, on top of the linoleum. I made red and blue chalk lines on a canvas and put it face down on the Mylar, and poured resin all over the back of it, squeegeeing it off to the edge where it went into these little gutters. When the whole thing would dry, I could peel the canvas off the Mylar, and the resin would have seeped through to the front of it.

People always ask me, “Well, what do you paint?” I say, “I paint canvas.” They think that that’s a kind of joke, but it isn’t a joke. It’s very direct.

I’d like to make it very clear that I’m not creative and I’m not trying to express myself. I’m an explorer, I’m trying to discover things, discover the phenomenal world by examining it, by looking at it, by playing with the materiality, pushing it around, shoving it, throwing it in the air.

—As told to Tibby Rothman

Ed Moses, one of the original artists affiliated with L.A.’s legendary Ferus Gallery, continues to be a prolific painter today.

ASSEMBLAGE OF ANGER

BY BETYE SAAR

The black revolution was always in your living room: the Watts riots, the marches, these horrific images of hoses and dogs attacking protesters. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, I thought, what can I do? I had friends and neighbors whose teenage sons went to the South to protest but, you know, as a woman, I couldn’t do it. As a mother, I couldn’t do it. Making art was my vehicle to express my anger and the pain that I felt.

In the 1960s, those of us artists who hung out in the Brockman Gallery, one of the first galleries opened by members of the black community in L.A., decided to attend the National Conference of Artists meeting in Chicago. Artist David Hammons and I took the red-eye and stayed at the same hotel, across the street from the Field Museum. We walked over to the museum and went to the basement floor, which was filled with African, Indonesian and South Pacific art. Both of us were transformed by that exhibition.

There was one particular shirt that an African chief had worn; it looked like a gunnysack with a hole in the top. Everyone in his tribe had contributed a lock of their hair or a rolled-up piece of hair and stitched it to the shirt. Maybe it was because we were the only ones in the space full of all these weird objects and masks that we just felt so much energy coming from it. When we came back to L.A., David started doing his hairpieces — with hair on wire and things like that — and I started making altars and not so much sacred, religious things, but pieces with some kind of special power or energy.

Around 1972, for a Berkeley exhibit, I created a piece called The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, a mixed-media work with images of the black domestic servant stereotype, with a central figure of her wielding a broom and a gun. That piece became my icon, but I was very hesitant about it. Even now, there are African-Americans who feel Aunt Jemima is a derogatory image. They don’t understand the significance of taking something negative and transforming it into something positive, which was my intention.

My new show at Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Culver City was inspired by a recent visit to a house in Vence, France, where Matisse had lived from 1945-48. Here I saw a photograph of Matisse’s The Red Room. I thought, I’m going to paint the whole gallery red. It became a personal challenge, because it’s a color I’m uncomfortable with. In metaphysics, red is the lowest color as far as the light vibration goes. In astrology, it’s the color of Mars, the god of war. Also, it’s the color of blood. I went through all my past installations and art inventory to see how much red I could find and I started making red objects.

—As told to Catherine Wagley

Betye Saar is a Los Angeles assemblage artist who participated in the early black arts and women’s movements.

TO UNDERSTAND L.A. ART, I WENT TO ITALY

BY MICHAEL GOVAN

Very early on, I became interested in artists of the ’60s and ’70s — paying no attention to where they were from. I encountered a lot of the work through the Italian collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, whose Panza Collection is at MOCA. One of my most formative experiences was going to his villa in Varese.

You were in a Northern Italian city near the lakes and he takes you into this dark room and he gives you instructions to stay there for 10 minutes. And in that space emerges this dark vertical column, kind of like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It emerges out of darkness — there’s sort of two sides of light and this column in the center. And this is, in fact, a work by Maria Nordman. And it’s the first work Panza always showed, one of the works he was most proud of, and it was the cornerstone of the installations at the former stables that he turned into his museum.

What was interesting is that this is Count Panza, an Italian, who’s collecting from Italy and his occasional trips to New York and some to L.A., and unlike museums on the East Coast in the United States, the Californians played an equal role.

So Maria Nordman’s was the first piece, and two stables down was Bruce Nauman with a Jud. And in the upper rooms, the first thing you encountered was Robert Irwin, as well as Dan Flavin and then the extraordinary James Turrells.

Panza had no prejudice, and as he went to collect works in that next generation past Rothko and Rauschenberg, he found L.A. before critics in the United States found L.A. It was a very powerful thing. It’s one of the reasons why we made a special effort to include a work by Maria Nordman in LACMA’s Pacific Standard Time show — because she was not in any other shows.

Pacific Standard Time is not a one-time deal. I’ve been trying to get people to think about this — it’s not about, “Now, we’re going to focus on L.A. artists.” It’s not that we’re “bestowing” this honor. Pacific Standard Time is happening because the artists are becoming so powerfully recognized in the world. And the institutions are taking advantage of this growing recognition. Yes, adding some scholarship and some history to it, but I always want to emphasize this — it’s the artists that are making L.A. famous, and not the museums.

—As told to Tibby Rothman

Michael Govan is the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

BLAME MY WIFE

BY ELI BROAD

My wife was the first art collector in the family, and I didn’t become interested until around 1973. The first important artwork we bought was a Van Gogh drawing of two peasant houses in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Several years later, we moved into contemporary art. Once our walls were filled at home, we said, “What do we do?” We created an art foundation to assemble a public collection of contemporary artworks that would be available for loan to museums around the world.

We’ve collected a number of artists who were active in L.A. in the ’60s, ’70s and later. We were fortunate in being able to acquire Charles Ray’s work in depth, buying some major works from Charles Saatchi many years ago. We purchased one of his first fashion- related pieces, All My Clothes, in which he took 16 photographs of himself wearing his entire wardrobe. We also bought two of his Plank Piece photographs from 1973, in which he used his own body as a sculpture, draping it over a plank — it was a bold move in the 1970s.

We are very interested in Ed Ruscha and have a large collection of his work, including his iconic Boss painting, which is simply the word “Boss” written in big, black letters on a brown background. We also have collected Sam Francis for many years — Sam worked in L.A. for most of his career — and we have some major examples of his abstract expressionist paintings from the ’50s and ’60s. We also have a ’60s disk and a dot painting by Robert Irwin.

In the late 1970s, I got involved in creating MOCA. Los Angeles was one of about six North American cities that didn’t have a modern and contemporary art museum, but we had this great community of artists who were internationally known, and great art schools. I got involved at first on the institutional side in 1979.

MOCA opened up with great success. We ended up with 600 people who we called founders, which was a great achievement. MOCA helped to stimulate contemporary art in Los Angeles, and spurred LACMA to delve into it.

Through my connection to MOCA, I’m a foundation contributor to Pacific Standard Time, which I think will attract greater attention to the art of Southern California, especially throughout the world. I’ve become convinced that Los Angeles is going to become the next contemporary art capital — no other city has more contemporary gallery space than Los Angeles. We’ve come into our own, finally.

—As told to Sophie Duvernoy

Eli Broad is an L.A. philanthropist, entrepreneur and art collector. He is founding chairman and a life trustee of MOCA and founder with his wife, Edythe, of the Broad Art Foundation, which is constructing the Broad, a contemporary art museum on Grand Avenue.

LA LA LAND CHEAT SHEET

Eight reasons L.A. art is what it is

BY CATHERINE WAGLEY

Smart people move to L.A. and then just “play tennis and swim” all day, quipped New York art critic Joseph Mashek in 1971. He wasn’t entirely wrong. As art began to thrive in

L. A. after World War II, artists wholeheartedly embraced California living, clichés and all. Without the following factors, L.A.’s art scene might never have distinguished itself from “serious” East Coast abstraction.

8. Sun

Abstract expressionism’s aggressive lines and blobs may have seemed inspired in stuffy, overcast New York, but in the intense California sun? It just seemed confused and overwrought. The sunshine definitely deserves some of the credit for the “L.A. Look” — clean edges, industrial sleekness, bright colors.

7. Surf

Surf culture took off around the same time L.A. art did, and it’s surfer-artists who made having a “lifestyle” in addition to an art career seem normal, if not essential. Eventually surf culture merged with skate culture and guys like Shepard Fairey graduated from skate parks to street art.

6. Sprawl

In the 1960s, artists lived and worked everywhere from Laurel Canyon to Eagle Rock, and this freedom to live in close communities or off the grid shaped their work. Ed Ruscha wandered the urban landscape, photographing gas stations and apartment buildings. Noah Purifoy and Ed Kienholz saw sprawl as a wasteland of discarded material and recycled this waste into assemblage art, which became a SoCal phenom.

5. Schools

Before L.A. had galleries or an art market, it had schools, such as the legendary Chouinard Art Institute, which became CalArts, and of course UCLA and current art-market darling USC. Artists taught to support themselves and, as their reputations grew, so did those of the schools. Now, even with an art market, school communities define L. A.’s art scene: Students study with their idols and stay, moving into group studio spaces and creating galleries with former classmates.

4. Settlers

Craft-oriented Japanese and Mexican- American immigrant communities contributed to the growing popularity of ceramic art, and artists from both groups participated in the performance and activist art movements of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s thanks to Chicano artists that we still have key community-oriented art organizations like Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Self-Help Graphics and SPARC Murals.

3. Space

Car culture certainly informed the finish-fetish minimalism that flourished here, but sculptors like Craig Kauff man and Robert Irwin owe a lot to developments in aerospace, too, then a booming L. A. industry. They experimented with the same vacuum-form processes used to make airplane windows and gave the surfaces of their sculptures polish and smooth curves evocative of sleek aerodynamic forms. In recent years, however, artists interested in industry have become more melancholy, like photographer Michael Tierney, whose Aerospace series mourns the lost optimism the California industry once represented.

2. Simon

The Watts Towers, the spectacular spiraling sculptures of shards of glass and concrete that immigrant contractor Simon Rodia constructed over decades, inspired a generation of artists to work publicly and from found material. In the early 1960s, the L.A. art community rallied to save the towers from demolition; Rodia’s masterpiece outlasted the Watts riots, too. Edgar Arceneaux started the Watts House Project in 2008 for artists to work with neighborhood kids and create on-site artwork.

1. Stars

Hollywood imagery pervaded postwar L. A. and many artists took odd jobs in movie studios, so appropriating the industry’s graphics seemed natural. Artists used marquee-inspired fonts in text pieces and cartoon characters in paintings and prints, and modeled exhibition ads after movie posters. Today, it’s castoff s of the movies that make for some of the best art, like Kelly Sears’ video tribute to a deceased starlet and Brian Bress’s obfuscated movie star postcards.

HOW IS CHRIS BURDEN LIKE THE THREE STOOGES?

An alternate history of comedy in L.A. art

BY DAVID ROBBINS

Comedy in art must always fight for respect. The art world prefers wrangling with weighty social, cultural or philosophical matters — “importance.” In L. A. the comedic artist negotiates an especially tricky path because the art world consciously seeks to distance itself from the frivolities of showbiz.

As I see it, there are three kinds of comedic artists. There are funny artists like William Wegman, who famously photographed his dog in various outfits and comic situations. For Wegman, funny is enough.

In the second group are artists like John Baldessari or Al Ruppersberg, who, in curator- speak, “use humor in their work,” i.e., as an element in some overarching analysis of our relationship to cultural artifacts.

L. A. also is strong in a third group, which I call concrete comedians. Going further than funny pictures, concrete comedy is gestural comedy, often carried out in the theater of the wider world rather than the studio.

Mainstream comedy is narrative, verbal and illusionistic — a funny line spoken by a funny character in a make-believe story. By contrast, concrete comedians, such as Andy Kaufman, live their comedy. It’s much more about doing than saying.

To my mind there are five essential L.A. concrete comedians active during the Pacific Standard Time period:

Ed Ruscha’s deadpan photography

His photograph books from the 1960s, such as the one in which he photographed every building on the Sunset Strip, embody a kind of gestural deadpan. An outrageous action or conception is presented with a veneer of factual neutrality. Most comedians signal that they’re doing comedy at the same time they’re doing it. But the deadpan comedian doesn’t signal the comedy, so the audience isn’t given a cue as to how to respond. We feel disoriented but giddy.

Eleanor Antin’s 100 boots

In the early 1970s Antin bought 50 identical pairs of black boots and put them in various scenarios — queued in a line as they enter a church, at work in an oil field, etc. She’s not using the camera in the modernist way of documenting an action; instead she’s using it to establish a fictional field where something imagined can take place. She’s a concrete comedian partly because this elaborate gesture is carried out at various real-world sites, but also because the final form of the work is not just a photograph, it’s a postcard, an object that is reintroduced into the theater of the real world via the postal system.

Bas Jan Ader’s pratfalls

When Ader would purposely fall off the roof of his house or ride his bike into a canal, he was transposing the comic pratfall into the key of the everyday. It’s intentional and highly self-conscious failure, and thus it isn’t failure at all. Furthermore, his pratfall isn’t just part of an illusionistic, make-believe story — it is the story.

Chris Burden’s violent performance

Where a bodybuilder will explore the body’s nonfunctional, one might say decorative condition by pushing it toward an exaggerated physical ideal, the concrete comedian plays up physical weakness, ineptitude, vulnerability, failure — all the flipside qualities that classic comedians have always explored. When in the early 1970s Burden had himself shot as performance art, he pushed the physical theater of the comic body in a violent direction. The country at that time was reeling from violence — the Vietnam War, the Manson murders, riots, assassinations — and Burden is doing a kind of punk slapstick, akin to violence comedians such as the Three Stooges, but updated and set against a socially violent backdrop.

Bruce Nauman alone

In the mid-’60s, Nauman in his studio would do things like draw a square on the floor and walk around it, or manipulate a neon tube between his legs. These behavioral inventions can be seen as serious phenomenological inquiries into blah blah blah, but they’re also ridiculous. Nauman’s innovation was to disengage comic behavior from any subject matter. Cut off from the outside world, from topicality and social consciousness, the comic body spins on its own axis.
—As told to Zachary Pincus-Roth

David Robbins is an artist and the author of Concrete Comedy: An Alternative History of 20th-Century Comedy.

HOW A STUDIO BECOMES A STARBUCKS

A journey through L.A.’s famous art landmarks and what’s become of them today

BY ED SCHAD

Los Angeles is an ephemeral art city, with a history of ramshackle studios, temporary stagings and artworks that go into books and museums yet all but disappear from the landscape. Pivotal artist David Hammons’ old second-floor dancehall studio, for instance, where, using grease, he printed parts of his body on paper, inspiring an entire scene of artists, is now a preschool playground. The site of Allan Ruppersburg’s famous 1969 Al’s Café, a weekly art-happening “restaurant” offering such dishes as Simulated Burned Pine Needles à la Johnny Cash Served with a Live Fern, is a vacant lot on West Sixth Street.

At the crest of La Cienega on Sunset, Mark di Suvero’s famous, controversial 58-foot-tall Peace Tower was a platform for dozens of artworks protesting the Vietnam War. Niki de Saint Phalle, a few blocks away, set up relief sculptures filled with wet paint and shot them with a .22. Now only photos and stories. Kim Jones’ walk down Wilshire dressed in sticks as his alter ego Mudman, Eleanor Antin’s staged photo of a semicircle of boots on Solano Beach ... even Barney’s Beanery on Holloway, the site of now-legendary latenight artist rants and antics in the 1960s, has become just another chain restaurant. What once was is now gone.

The remnants of 35 years of art in L.A. will emerge in Pacific Standard Time across 60 venues, but to dig one’s bare hand into the roots of art, one must take to the road: One must drive Pacific Standard Time. So over the course of several weekends, I hopped in my Honda Civic and went afield, dipping into the lost paths of L.A. art history. I looked for what remained. When nothing remained, I imagined what once was.

Robert Irwin’s scrim, 78 Market St., Venice

One of my first stops was a series of storefronts (numbers 74, 77 and 78) on Market Street in Venice. A stone’s throw from Mao’s Kitchen and now containing a bar called Nikki’s, I found four white arches, leftover Italian flourishes from Abbot Kinney’s mad dream to literally make Venice, Calif., like its European ancestor, full of ancient charm and canals. Kinney’s vision ended with oil speculation, and once the oil was gone, in came bohemia. Market Street is significant. Galleries have periodically taken up residence there, and also artists, specifically Larry Bell and Robert Irwin, both known for using new technologies in an exploration of light and space.

It’s difficult to imagine now, as one struggles to park on this beach traffic– clogged path, but Irwin painted the interior of No. 78 a flat white in 1980, and then knocked out the front wall and replaced the façade with a white scrim. You could not see the room through the scrim unless your eyes refocused. You had to wait for the effect. The scrim gave way from apparent solidity, revealing the depth of the room opening up in the light. As people passed in 1980, some saw it and some didn’t. The piece remained unharmed for two weeks and then was taken down. Irwin famously took to the desert to think.

Dennis Hopper’s Double Standard photograph, Santa Monica Boulevard at Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood

Dennis Hopper’s iconic 1962 Double Standard photograph, an image of doubled Standard Gasoline signs, doubled streets, doubled mirror images, was taken at that weird little turn where Melrose ends at the edge of West Hollywood. I always thought Hopper was in a parked car and had staged the photo. Now I know he was in traffic, going east on Santa Monica, and that the photo was a snapshot, taken quickly before the honking started. The Standard Station — there was only one — is no longer there, but the photo comes alive when you are there. The witty convergences have all disappeared, making the instant captured by Hopper an even more poignant moment.

Stephen Shore’s Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, June 21, 1975, Hollywood

The opposite of Hopper’s wit is the corner of Beverly and La Brea, where New Yorker Stephen Shore took this less iconic but far more important photograph. It too involves a gas station, a Chevron, which is still there, but this photo is more about ordinary Los Angeles, the reality of location. Taking his cue from the deadpan pools, apartments and buildings in Ed Ruscha’s artist books, Shore ends the dream of the West with the reality of the West. The intersection is not conducive to myths — it’s too sober. Walking the spot is unremarkable, and that’s Shore’s point.

Asco’s Instant Mural, Whittier Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, East L.A.

Myths explode further at the Whittier Boulevard and Arizona Avenue in East L.A., where Asco taped themselves briefly to a wall, creating Instant Mural in 1974. Harry Gamboa Jr., a member of the group along with Willie Herrón III, Gronk and Patssi Valdez, wrote that the event occurred on a building found in Victor Aleman’s 1971 photo, titled Just Before the Gunfire, showing one of the antiwar protests of the Chicano Moratorium movement in 1971.

Arizona Avenue has been expanded since then — 1971’s two lanes are now four. The street is still vibrant with shops and lively street action, but the building in Aleman’s photograph, a structure that must have been proud of its art deco detailing, is falling into ruin. Only a commemorative plate on the death of protester Gustav Montag marks the events of 1971.

The air must have been supercharged in 1974, the memories of the protest and the gunfire still relatively present, as the young performance artists suddenly took to the wall, rolls of tape ripping, trying to stick themselves to the surface. The artists sprung out of the tape like figures of a mural coming alive in real time, a critique of the political effectiveness of murals in and of themselves. L.A.’s history of art activism comes into focus here, its history of the disenfranchised gaining a voice.

The Women’s Building, 1727 N. Spring St., Chinatown

The Women’s Building, just up the I-5 freeway, north of Chinatown on Spring Street, also conjures an alternate history, one featured in an October exhibit on the topic at Otis College of Art and Design. This converted warehouse, miraculously, is still full of artists’ studios. Covered in graffiti, it’s run down not out of neglect but from containing people with better things to do than keep it up. Barbara T. Smith, Suzanne Lacy, Leslie Labowitz and Nancy Fried all made work here or performed here. In 1978, they raised to the roof of the building a naked lady sculpture by Kate Millet.

Chris Burden’s Shoot, F-Space, 1514-F E. Edinger Ave. (address now nonexistent), Santa Ana

Industrial parks are hardly exciting even on their best days, but for another site of pivotal performance, one can drive to Santa Ana to Edinger Avenue. It is an endless blank of warehouses and corporate outposts, parking lots and metal. Here you can imagine the shot, which must have sounded like a quick hiss, of Chris Burden’s infamous Shoot, performed at the longgone F-Space. On Nov. 19, 1971, Burden walked into the gallery, followed by a friend. Calling out “Ready,” the friend shot him in the arm.

It feels silly to be here, in a Santa Ana industrial park, but Southern California’s locations play a part in its art, breathe life and give birth to it. Burden once was asked if some of his works grew out of boredom and frustration with California, and he admitted that could be. I find a confirmation here in this warehouse city, where the shot must have been barely heard.

Richard Diebenkorn and James Turrell’s studios, Ocean Park area, Santa Monica

Seeing Richard Diebenkorn’s old studio at 2444 Main St. in Santa Monica, you see his Ocean Park paintings, all made there, become less and less abstract. The streets angling to the sea around the building, in the pink and pale blue light of a beach evening, recall the geometries and pastel hues of Diebenkorn’s most famous works. James Turrell’s studio a block south at 2671 Main, the old Mendota Hotel, is now a Starbucks and apparently, according to coffee regulars, Bill Cosby’s office occupies the second floor. A ficus tree in front has grown large, and the building is quite beautiful. In 1969, light flooded inside, and Turrell shaped and oriented it by removing windows and bits of walls to split the space, creating odd perceptual shifts.

Driving Pacific Standard Time is similar to Turrell’s need “to accept the light coming through the openings.” L.A. enters its art like light through that old building. L.A. art comes and goes. It’s fun to see where it was, where it went, its activity now quiet, ready to flare up again.

SUNSHINE DAZE

A SHORT, ADMITTEDLY REDUCTIVE TIME LINE OF ART IN LOS ANGELES, 1945-1980

1945: Neapolitan immigrant Simon Rodia is midway through building the biggest, weirdest and least commercially viable sculpture in Los Angeles in the historically black neighborhood of Watts, the Watts Towers. Rumor has it that an alternate site was where the Beverly Hilton is in Beverly Hills, which, some argue, would have been a better longterm real estate deal for Rodia.

1947: Artist Kenneth Anger makes Fireworks, one of his few surviving early films. The Santa Monica native, onetime child actor, avowed occultist and author of movieindustry scandal compendium Hollywood Babylon, with his mix of glamour, power and sexuality, is our first truly significant homegrown Los Angeles artist, even if most people think of him only as a gay magician.

1955: The future cofounder of CalArts opens the most ridiculously successful art project in the history of mankind: Disneyland. It isn’t known if any art critics attended the opening.

1956: Venice-based Charles and Ray Eames (that’s husband and wife, not brothers) design the Eames lounge chair, the first and only chair inspired by a first baseman’s mitt.

1957: Curator Walter Hopps, artist Ed Kienholz and poet Bob Alexander open Ferus Gallery, seen as the origin myth for contemporary art in the city — especially if you’re talking to Irving Blum, who quit selling furniture to take over the gallery in 1958 and turned this ragtag bunch of beatniks into an excellent business decision.

1962: Walter Hopps, now curator at the Pasadena Art Museum, curates the first museum exhibition of American pop art, followed in 1963 by the first retrospective of Marcel Duchamp. His amazing vision, compounded by his practical inability to show up on time, gets him fired in 1967.

1964: David Hockney moves to Los Angeles, ostensibly to better research two important subjects of his work: pools and boys.

1968: Bruce Nauman moves to Pasadena, where he figures out one of the most important breakthroughs in modern art, which later wins him a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale: Pacing around and drinking too much coffee can be art.

1970: John Baldessari cremates his paintings, Allan Kaprow brings his “happenings” West, David Hammons prints his body, CalArts opens as perhaps the first conceptual art school and Paul McCarthy settles in Los Angeles. A pretty damn good year.

1971: Although Channa Horwitz was tacitly included in LACMA’s famous “Art and Technology” exhibition, the catalog cover pictures 64 participants, all of them men. Much to the museum’s surprise, feminists are miffed.

And in one of the more dangerous acts of early performance art, Chris Burden arranges to get himself shot. It’s widely considered a seminal work of American art, and some critics wonder why more performance artists aren’t also shot.

1972: Asco claims LACMA as a work of art by spray-painting its members’ signatures on the front wall. The museum itself, with characteristic tact, mistakes it for vandalism and paints over it.

1977: Raymond Pettibon draws his first cover for his brother’s band, Black Flag, along with the band’s classic logo of four black bars. Though Pettibon becomes famous for his pen-and-ink drawings, those bars become his most enduring legacy, tattooed on thousands of teenage punks.

1978: Jeffrey Vallance buys a chicken at Ralphs, names it Blinky and holds its funeral at Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park. A year earlier he had walked into LACMA dressed as a janitor, installed new electrical outlet covers that had his drawings on them and invited his friends to the “opening.” In the 1980s, he took his career to the next logical step: MTV veejay.

1980: In October, Public Spirit becomes the largest performance-art festival in North America. The second edition is set for January 2012. Judging by the extent of the genre’s appeal, the third seems likely in 2050.

—Andrew Berardini
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