Pacific Standard Time
By Suzanne Carte
Pacific Standard Time
October, 2011 – April, 2012
ALL COMBINED IN AN EFFORT TO
GIVE YOU A PERFECT PAINTING"
– John Baldessari
Or, combining all of the above can give you a perfect (or bizarre, wondrous and, at times, confused) exhibition series, too.
As the multidisciplinary extravaganza Pacific Standard Time (PST) came to a close, I thought back to the multifarious roster of events, films, videos and exhibitions packed into an intense road trip around the City of Los Angeles. Initiated by The Getty Center, PST was an ambitious project, spanning Southern California. With over 60 collaborating cultural institutions presenting exhibitions over the course of six months, PST allowed every viewer to have unique and highly customized experiences. Festivals and talks, followed by screenings and performances, rolled in a continuous wave, which ensured ongoing audience commitment and participation.
The impetus of the project was to shine a spotlight on the significant contributions by Southern Californian artists and to reintroduce forgotten histories by re-exposing the immense cultural production in the region between 1945 and 1980. Originally seen as a corrective measure by addressing the lack of critical acknowledgement and recognition, the PST project was a path of rediscovery, allowing one to fall in love with L.A. again.
The odyssey began at The Getty Center. The exhibitions functioned as a primer on the massive output of information. Charting the abundant artistic innovation in post-World War II Los Angeles, this exhibition, Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970, featured works by all the usual suspects, including Nauman, Chicago, Ruscha, Hockney, Baldessari and McCracken.
From there, it opened into a sea of archival documents from Doin’ It In Public at OTIS to Cruising the Archive at ONE Gay & Lesbian Archives, Gallery and Museum; from iconic California design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Living in a Modern Way to celebrity, with the unnecessary and excessive repetition of Weegee at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). One could easily be found towering (or stumbling) through Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in a pair of shiny red pumps or be dwarfed under the incredible, manic creation of the Watts Towers. It was a funhouse effect of overindulgence, L.A.-style.
In wading through the glut of screenings, performances and panel discussions, some exhibitions stood out as exemplifying the vision of PST. MOCA shone downtown with Under the Big Black Sun (California Art 1974 –1981), an overwhelming survey of pluralistic practices and experimentation in the wake of political and social upheaval. Large screens loomed above the exhibition floor, streaming a barrage of news footage picturing protests and global events. This provided context to the turbulent times – post-Watergate, post-Vietnam – that served as the backdrop for the birth of the L.A. art scene. Propaganda and gig posters lined the walls as the thump of a punk-heavy soundtrack echoed from the music video montage in the rear. With over 125 artists, the exhibition was a dizzying smash-up of cultural perspectives through the rhetoric of identity politics. Art and activism were closely linked and visible through an exploration of all aspects: race (Robert Colescott, My Shadow, 1977), class (John Divola, Zuma series, 1978 – 2006), gender (Suzanne Lacy, Three Weeks in May, 1977) and sexual orientation (Hal Fisher’s Gay Semiotics series, 1997). It read like a call to action – a generation of artists probing American ideologies and demanding change.
That demand and urgency was felt most succinctly and strongly at the Hammer Museum’s vital contribution Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960 –1980. Exploring the legacy of the city’s African-American artists, who created work within the fabric of the civil rights movement, this exhibition brought a series of iconic works into conversation for the first time. In positioning Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972) together with the assemblages of Otterbridge and the social realist style of Charles White, curator Kellie Jones drew a chronological overview of the key artists and their exhibition history in the city.
Significant space was designated to David Hammons’ body print series. Impressions of his face, arms and clothing seen in America the Beautiful (1968) was the poster image of the exhibition, although it was the lesser-known works such as Bag Lady in Flight (1970) that stole the show. His elongated bodies in motion spoke with Senga Nengudi’s long stretched nylon forms. The abstracted bodies of her sculptures, extending out from the corners and melding performance and dance with material form, are just as innovative now as they were in the 70s.
Hammons, Nengudi and Otterbridge’s work could be seen throughout PST, proving that they touched a wide spectrum of associations. (In fact, Hammons work could be found in almost every iteration.) The interconnectedness of the artists, ideas and works throughout the PST exhibitions established a deep sense of community. It went beyond the Cool School and painted an inclusive picture of support and solidarity.
Nostalgic survey exhibitions have the tendency to be overly romantic or, even worse, closed conversations, speaking only to those who partied and painted together years ago. Yet PST formulated an exact balance of sentiment, education and vigour while also including a range of artists and thematics that avoided the trappings of wistful sentiment, and created a robust and inclusive picture. It is impossible to tell the whole story, but PST irrevocably proved its point: that there was an abundance of great art and cultural production in California during the 60s and 70s. Take that, New York.
The exhibition Now Dig This! opens in New York at MoMA PS1 in October 2012 (exact dates to be determined).
The Hammer Museum collaborates with LAXART this summer with MADE IN L.A. from June 2 – September 2, 2012, and features new art by Californian artists influenced by the artists featured in PST.
Suzanne Carte is currently pursuing her Masters of Contemporary Art at the Sotheby's Art Institute in New York. She is also the Assistant Curator (on leave) at the Art Gallery of York University where her focus is on an integrative model using exhibition and programming in tandem as an education tool within the academic institution. She has held positions as Outreach Programmer for the Blackwood Gallery and the Art Gallery of Mississauga, and as Professional Development and Public program Coordinator at the Ontario Association of Art Galleries. She is on the Board of Directors of C Magazine. Suzanne has curated exhibitions in public spaces, artist-run centres, and commercial and public art galleries.