The Artful Game Changer: Pacific Standard TIme: Art in LA 1945-1980

Category: Connoisseures Published: Wednesday, 26 September 2012 01:16 Hits: 1718

BY ANDREW MYERS

 

Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, has a long history of producing entertaining spectacle. Come this fall, spectacular edification can be included as well. Launching October 1 and continuing through April 2012, Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 will bring together more than sixty cultural institu- tions throughout the region, Santa Barbara to San Diego, Los Angeles to Palm Springs—all to tell the story of the birth and growth of the L.A. art scene,
the source of many of the most influential art movements in the second half of the 20th century, and how it became a unique and major force in the art world.

It is a story little-known, one 
of evolution and revolution and never before comprehensively told. It is also a cultural collaboration on a colossal scale, the largest ever undertaken by museums and not-for-profit organizations in the US, arguably in the world.

“Unlike exhibitions linked to a major event like the Olympics or the five-hundredth anniversary of 1492, or those coordinated under a fair or bienniale, Pacific Standard Time was organized among museums,” says Los Angeles County Museum of Art CEO and director Michael Govan.

Through its scores of exhibitions and coordinated programs, Pacific Standard Time will highlight the artistic production
of post-World War II Southern California through the social crucible of the 1960s and ‘70s, running an encyclopedic gamut: L.A. Pop Art to post-minimalism, modernist architecture and design to assemblage sculpture, the Light and Space installations to multi-media exhibitions and video art, pioneering Chicano, African-American, Japanese- American and feminist art movements to the work of artists’ collectives.

The origins of Pacific Standard Time stretch back nine years to 2002, when the senior staff at the Getty Foundation—one of the four programs operating under the world’s wealthiest arts institution, the L.A.-based J. Paul Getty Trust—realized the history of Southern California’s creative explosion was in danger of being lost or destroyed. What began as an initiative to record oral histories and assemble or conserve archives throughout the region evolved into $10 million in grants from the Getty Foundation to cultural institutions of every size and character across Southern California, and hence into the phenomenon that is Pacific Standard Time. “What was really luxurious was money from the Getty for research—that made all the difference,” says Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum.

“We’re very excited the Getty is spending more of its resources in L.A.,” adds Govan, voicing a popular sentiment in the city.

Just as it has forged a new template for massive inter-institutional cooperation across the region, so has Pacific Standard Time strengthened the cooperation and coordination within the Getty itself. To better understand these changes, as well as to better appreciate the nature and organization of the Getty, we spoke with the heads of the Getty’s four programs— the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Conservation Institute.

 

JOAN WEINSTEIN

DEPUTY DIRECTOR, GETTY FOUNDATION

Weinstein served as Interim Director of the Getty Foundation until August 2011, when Deborah Marrow, who had been serving as Interim President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, was reinstated as Director of the Getty Foundation

“When we began we never imagined we would create the largest collaborative exhibition event ever,” says Joan Weinstein. Nevertheless, the Getty Foundation was the catalyst and incubator for Pacific Standard Time.

It all started during a visit to the Getty by Lyn Kienholz, the founder of the California/International Arts Foundation, and Henry Hopkins ,
a museum director and educator, in 2002. “Lyn and Henry were very worried that the history 
of post-War art in Southern California was soon to be lost,” says Weinstein, who received
her Ph.D. in art history from the University of California, has been active in professional organizations centering on art history and philanthropy, and who joined the Getty Foundation in 1994. “Many of the artists from this period were there. Lyn and Henry galvanized everybody in Southern California.”

The Foundation—its mission to strengthen art history as a global discipline, promote the interdisciplinary practice of conservation, increase access to museum and archival collections, and develop current and future leaders in the visual arts—quickly went into action, doing what it does best: judiciously giving away money. Through the project On the Record: Art in LA 1945-1980, the Foundation funded surveys of holdings in public and private collections, and awarded grants to libraries, archives and museums to locate and preserve materials relating to the art and artists of this period. “The Foundation was behind the scenes, basically doing and helping with the not sexy work,” says Weinstein.

In addition to funding external arts-based programs, the Foundation works in collaboration with the other three Getty programs to ensure they “achieve maximum impact,” according to the Foundation’s website. While support does not extend to funding (all four Getty programs have their own discrete budgets, and the Foundation is prohibited from financing any aspect of the three other programs), it does extend to coordination and collaboration.

What began at the Foundation grew quickly to include the Getty Research Institute, which located and acquired the archives of important artists and dealers, among them Betty Asher, Robert Irwin, Allan Kaprow and Julius Shulman, as well as institutional archives such as the Long Beach Museum of Art Video Archive.
The Research Institute also began conducting oral histories with artists, gallerists, curators and other art-world players pivotal to the era and gave money to catalog materials. The amount of information, as well as what it revealed, was staggering. “At this point, we realized the material would rewrite history,” says Weinstein.

Even so, the Foundation was
a long way from the massive juggernaut that Pacific Standard Time would become. “We were
a bit like Judy and Mickey: ‘Let’s put on an exhibition! Let’s call
the Hammer, LACMA, MOCA, the world!’” Weinstein remembers, laughing. Nevertheless, the stakes kept getting bigger as word and Getty largesse spread throughout the Southern California cultural landscape. “First we wanted to have several exhibitions, then more than 25, then more than 50,” says Weinstein, noting that the Foundation first funded planning and research, “which is usually the hard money for institutions to get.”

As these goals were surpassed and the mammoth scope became clear, the Foundation decided to promote Pacific Standard Time. 
on a similarly grand scale: an umbrella advertising campaign; press events in Paris, London and Berlin; an interactive website; as well as a “push system” in which volunteers in Pacific Standard Time T-shirts advise visitors about other exhibitions—making Southern California’s highways, in effect, concrete corridors connecting exhibition to exhibition, ideas to ideas: a conceptual, even surreal, image very much consistent with those imagined by Southern California’s post-War artists.

 

THOMAS GAEHTGENS

DIRECTOR,
GETTY RESEARCH INSTITUTE

With a mission “dedicated to furthering knowledge and advancing understanding of the visual arts,” coupled with an appreciation that many of the key figures of the postar L.A. art world were advanced in years, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) was quick to respond to the Foundation’s clarion call for conservation and cataloging.

Nearly a decade ago, the GRI began to collect oral interviews from artists such as Ed Ruscha and Fred Hammersley, Henry Hopkins and fellow curator 
Walter Hopps, gallerists Irving Blum and Patricia Faure, and Stanley Grinstein, co-founder of the publisher and print workshop Gemini/GEL, among the nearly 100 completed to date. This initiative culminated in On the Record: Art in L.A. 1945-1980, launched by the Getty Foundation in collaboration with the GRI. “This was not simply a research project, there was infectious excitement,” says GRI director Thomas Gaehtgens, who holds a doctorate from the Institute of Art History at the University of Bonn, participated as a Getty Scholar at the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1985- 1986 and, in 2011, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Paris-Sorbonne.

For the GRI, this excitement manifests in two exhibitions. Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents
in L.A. Painting and Sculpture 1950-1970 (October 1-February 5, 2012), in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum, will be held in the museum’s galleries; and Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics 1945-1980 (October 1– February 5, 2012), an exhibition of photographs, ephemera, correspondence and artwork from the GRI’s own extensive archive will be exhibited in the GRI.

As substantial as Gaehtgens considers these exhibitions, he views the longterm benefits accrued by On the Record as just as valuable. “Over the last ten years we have become the central depository of California artists’ archives, where they are safely housed and can be studied,” he says. Additionally, there is the increased communication between cultural institutions. “What started as a ripple became a wave became a tsunami,” he says. “Pacific Standard Time has become a movement of identity and this will have great effect in the future.”

More entrenched throughout
 the region as a result of Pacific Standard Time, Gaehtgens emphasizes these lines of communication are international as well. Following its close at the Getty Museum
in February, Crosscurrents will open in March at Berlin’s Martin- Gropius-Bau, where the exhibition will actually increase in size.
“Many Southern Californian artists were appreciated in Europe long before they were in New York, “says Gaehtgens, adding that the additional works will come from both private and public European collections, such as “a painting by Sam Francis so huge it hasn’t been seen publicly in 30 years.”

 

DAVID BOMFORD

ACTING DIRECTOR,
J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM

“Crosscurrents will be the broadest survey of any of the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions,” says David Bomford, noting that while the museum’s marquee exhibition, Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture 1950-1970 has a “slightly narrower focus” than the prescribed Pacific Standard Time bookends of 1945 and 1980, it certainly won’t lack for the period’s blockbusters. “Hockney’s fantastic A Bigger Splash is coming from the Tate, and Ruscha’s LACMA on Fire from the Hirshhorn.” In all, 79 objects by more than 45 artists— among them John Baldessari, Ed Moses, Bruce Nauman, Betye Saar and Richard Diebenkorn—will be included, yielding a land-
mark survey of art as well as a cornerstone of the entire Pacific Standard Time initiative. “We are most enthusiastic partners with the Research and Conservation Institutes and, of course, the Foundation,” says Bomford.

Additional Getty Museum exhibitions he points to include In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980 (on view December 20, 2011 through May 6, 2012), comprised of photographs made between those
dates in Los Angeles by artists influenced by the city; and a large contemporary sculpture by Robert Irwin, which will stand in the main entrance (Irwin’s work is most closely associated with the Light and Space movement, which traces its origins to the 1970s). There are also “the marvelous links across campus,” says Bomford, referring to From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column (September 13-March 11, 2012), a collaboration between the Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute, as well as Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics 1945- 1980 and In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980. “Five Pacific Standard Time manifestations,” counts Bomford. “It is the most extensive Getty collaboration ever—at its deepest and most exciting. We are extremely excited about the other exhibitions, all complementing each other in every way without any duplication.”

Like his colleagues, Bomford also considers the strengthened nexus connecting Southern California’s cultural institutions as enduring. “I believe there will be occasions in the future when museums in L.A. will come together again for various enterprises.”

 

TIMOTHY WHALEN

DIRECTOR, GETTY CONSERVATION INSTITUTE

With the one-object exhibition From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column, Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute since 1998, kills two birds with one shiny stone. Or, more precisely, with one gleaming polyester resin column measuring twelve feet high and eight feet across.

“The exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time, but it comes out of a greater initiative,” says Whalen, referring to the Conservation Institute’s mission to “serve the conservation community through scientific research, education and training, model field projects, and the dissemination of the results 
of both its work and the work of others in the field.” This means that while From Start to Finish features the 1975 sculpture Gray Column by De Wain Valentine (one of the most influential sculptors active in Los Angeles in 1960s and ‘70s),
i t focuses on the materials and fabrication processes developed by Valentine that made the creation of Gray Column possible. “Not enough is known about the conservation of 20th and 21st-century materials—industrial paint, house paint, mayonnaise, you name it,” says Whalen, who holds a B.A. in Art History as well as an M.A. in Museum Studies and Art History from the University of Southern California, and who has worked under the umbrella of the Getty Trust since 1983.

In the case of Gray Column, the medium is plastic. More specifically, it’s a polyester resin that Valentine modified with Ed Revay (a representative of the manufacturer) to create large-scale pieces in a single pour, without cracks, which could be polished to a high luminosity. “We’ve wanted to address the conservation of 20th century materials for a decade; 
we addressed paint first,” says Whalen, who considers Gray Column an artwork of great beauty, as well as an ideal vehicle to examine and discuss the innovation, formulation and conservation of plastic in the arts.