When I was coming of age as an artist in California in the late 60s and early 70s, the culture of contemporary art was centered unquestionably in New York City. Art Forum, Art in America et al gave small and occasional nods to what was happening in Chicago, Santa Fe or the West Coast. But most of us who were studying art somewhere other than Manhattan took our cues from the art epicenter on the East Coast.
Meanwhile all around us, West Coast artists were churning out work that spoke to other sensibilities and other traditions. We were in proximity to great artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Irwin, Billy Al Bengston, Ed Moses, Nathan Olivera, Wayne Thiebaud, Miriam Shapiro, Ray Saunders.
The first major exhibit I have seen that highlighted that uniquely California visual legacy was The Third Mind at the Guggenheim in 2009. That exhibition explored how Asian art, literature, and philosophy influenced American visual art and culture, and many of the artists included were from the West Coast. It described a rich period in our history that was more inclusive and multifaceted than the standard telling has let on.
Little did I know at the time that the Getty had a much more ambitious plan to recast the story of art in post-WWII America. Pacific Standard Time emerged from a Getty Research Institute initiative focused on art in Los Angeles and California. “Through archival acquisitions, oral history interviews, public programming, exhibitions, and publications, the Research Institute is responding to the need to locate, collect, document, and preserve the art historical record of this vibrant period.”
‘Bout time. And Roberta Smith of the New York Times agrees:
“Pacific Standard Time” has been touted as rewriting history. It seems equally plausible to say that it simply explodes it, revealing the immensity of art before the narrowing and ordering of the historicizing process. Taken together, its shows may be the next best thing to being there the first time around, or maybe even better: they surely reveal more than any single individual living through these times could have seen or known about.
To a great extent this epic of exhibitions reflect our moment’s broader historical attitude, which might be characterized as No Artist Left Behind. Anyone who made art at a given moment is eligible to be part of the history of that moment. It’s expansive and inclusive and also reminds of me of Lewis Carroll’s imaginary full-scale map, which was meant to be as large as the area it charted.
“Pacific Standard Time” is a great argument for museums concentrating first and foremost on local history, for a kind of cosmopolitan regionalism, if you will. It sets an example that other curators in other cities should follow, beginning in my mind with Chicago and San Francisco. If America has more than one art capital, it probably has more than two.
I am headed to Los Angeles for a week and hope to see as much of this sprawling set of shows as possible. And celebrating Thanksgiving with my daughter and her new family makes the adventure a perfect blend of favorite things.
I am back to Slow Muse after November 30.
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