Pacific Standard Time

Pacific Standard Time: L.A. Artists on the Hottest Pieces to See

The ‘Pacific Standard Time’ fair presents a bird’s-eye view of SoCal painting and sculpture. By Blake Gopnik and Isabel Wilkinson.

© Ed Ruscha. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

© Ed Ruscha. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

Pacific Standard Time, a sprawling arts festival, aims to present a bird’s-eye view of Southern California since World War II. Leading L.A. artists tell Blake Gopnik and Isabel Wilkinson what they’re most excited about.

Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas a painting from 1963 that, despite its Texan subject, has become a definite classic of Southern California art. It is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in an exhibition called Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970.

Pacific Standard Time isn’t just what clocks show on the West Coast. It may also be a particularly Californian way of thinking and seeing. At least, that’s one of the premises behind the huge art festival called Pacific Standard Time that is filling almost every museum and gallery in and around Los Angeles, and that has its official launch Oct. 1. The project, which gives a bird’s-eye view of art in southern California since World War II, was spearheaded by the Getty Foundation, which helped other institutions get on board with almost $10 million in funding. “This critical mass of exhibitions that the Getty organized is an eye opener. And it could also set the future agenda for institutions in Los Angeles to have a much more comprehensive view of what really did happen,” says Richard Koshalek, who helped found the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and ran it for almost two decades. (He’s now the director of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum.) Because of the sheer scale of the P.S.T. festival, we’ve asked Koshalek and some leading L.A. artists to share their thoughts on the shows they most hope to see. Images from the exhibitions they’ve chosen are on view in this gallery, ranging from SoCal swimming pools to fine sculptures in clay.

Interviews conducted and condensed by Blake Gopnik and Isabel Wilkinson.

Courtesy the Oakland Museum of California, Kravets Wehby Gallery, and the Estate of Robert Colescott

'My Shadow' (1977) by Robert Colescott.

John Baldessari is one of the most important figures in the history of art in Los Angeles, and in the United States. His conceptual approach to painting has won him shows around the world, including a huge retrospective held last year at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (A typical work involved him paying sign painters to copy pages from how-to books on art.) He’s especially looking forward to Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 to 1981, at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, a survey-show that is a lynchpin of the entire P.S.T. festival.

“I think I'm a pretty knowledgable person about the history of art in Los Angeles, but I guess what I'm looking forward to is to see if there are any artists who have fallen through the cracks, that need to be seen again. One in particular, Charles Garabedian, I  think is a fantastic artist. He's presaged so much of the kind of innocent, figurative painting done by young artists--and I don't think any of these artists even know that he exists. So he's one that I hope gets elevated.”

Courtesy the artist and Michael H. Lord Gallery © Leland Y. Lee

'Silvertop – Hollywood Dawn' (1972) by Leland Y. Lee

Pacific Standard Time” is like “having a platter full of desserts,” says Ilene Segalove, a veteran L.A. artist. She witnessed the tremendous fertility of the city’s 1970s art scene—she counts as a pioneer of feminist art, although she hates the label—and like many of her peers of that era, she’s seen her work get much fresh attention over the last few years. Segalove is especially eager to see a show at the Palm Springs Art Museum called Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945 – 1982, which opens  Jan. 21. (P.S.T. openings are staggered over coming months.)

“When I was a kid, we lived in Culver City and would drive all the way to Palm Springs to have a swimming pool experience. They had them there, and we didn't have them in L.A. much, then. It was exotic. And looking at some of these images reminds me of the '50s, and that kind of innocent time when you didn't think about skin cancer but got into the kidney-shaped pool and really created a whole lifestyle around it. I think of my puberty as identified with the swimming pool, in a good way. So that show, what I love about it, is that it's really like a self-portrait of Palm Springs. If they're going to show something about who they are, they might as well pick the swimming pool.”

Gift of the California African American Foundation; Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum

'The Door (Admissions Office) (1969) by David Hammons.

Betye Saar came early to the assemblage art that went on to become a trademark of African-American work in Los Angeles and beyond. She’s keen to see a show called Places of Validation, Art, and Progression, at the California African American Museum.

“It is about places where African American artists and creative people could join together to show their artwork. Because in early L.A., there weren't any art museums, and there definitely weren't any galleries or places for African American artists to show. It really is a documentation of the people and the places that made it possible for the art works of African American artists to be seen between 1940 and 1980. Some of them were community centers, some of them were churches, but we did not have a special place to celebrate African American creative people. They were invisible.”

Courtesy Tom Jancar Gallery, Los Angeles © Judy Chicago, 1971 - Photo © Donald Woodman

'Big Blue Pink' (1971) by Judy Chicago.

Judy Chicago’s Dinner Table has made her a household name as one of the founders of feminist art in this country. She’s looking forward to seeing one of her earlier works taken out of mothballs for the Getty Museum show called Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970.

“The early days in my career were really, really tough, and some of that work I put in storage—like the painting Big Blue Pink (from the Flesh Gardens series), that wasn’t seen in years. So imagine it being in the Getty and how exciting that is! It’s the second time [that painting] has been seen in 30 years. Overall, the changes that are worth celebrating is that there are many more women artists of color showing and that they can be themselves in ways that were really difficult when I was young. Pacific Standard Time is not a single narrative. If you think about modern art and its single, historic narrative (one movement after another with artists that are all white men with women or artists of color added) this is a different look at the diversity of expressions. And that’s what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

©1972 Asco. Photo by Harry Gamboa, Jr. Courtesy of the artist ©Harry Gamboa

'Birds Wave Goodbye' (1972) by Asco.

The Los Angeles photographer Alan Sekula is known around the world for powerful images that document global commerce and industry and the frameworks of capitalism. He is eager to revisit the work of a Chicano performance collective called Asco, consisting of Harry Gamboa, Jr., Willie Herron, Patssi Valdez, and the artist known as Gronk, showing in an exhibition called Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987,  at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Of course the irony is that a group of them tagged LACMA as an art work, without its permission, and now they're institutionally embraced—and that's great. It looks to be a really solid show. I'm sure I'll see things I haven't seen before. There was a really nice interview with Ed Ruscha in The L.A. Times the other day, and he was quoting Harry Gamboa—one of Harry's sort of shamanistic statements—where Harry was saying, ‘When things happen in L.A., it's sort of like a mirage, and then it disappears, it's gone.’ And it was so interesting to see Ruscha, who's such a veteran, quoting Harry. It just readjusts the balance in terms of where all the oracular wisdom comes from.”

Mills College Art Museum Collection

'No Time for Jivin’,' by John Outterbridge.

Doug Aitken, one of the most celebrated younger artists in Los Angeles, is known for his complex works in projected video. He’s currently preparing an ambitious, 360-degree piece that will transform the cylindrical façade of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington. Overwhelmed by the selection on offer in Pacific Standard Time, he finally zeroed in on the Hammer Museum’s Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980.

"It's a show about black art in Los Angeles, and I think it's a very underexplored subject. To talk about it, you almost have to really understand the city. Los Angeles is a vast sprawling landscape, and it's similar to walking on sand—sometimes you step on quicksand, and it pulls you under, and you surface somewhere else. To me that's very much what the Hammer show appears to do: It's moving through different strata of African American art-making on the West Coast.  And some of the work is very beautiful and passive, dealing with light and space issues, and you have someone else making very politically agitated work. The entire Pacific Standard Time program seems to be dealing with this very restless, agitated energy, which I think is true to this place. And it's also true that that kind of energy hasn't been the focus so much in the past, in terms of how the creativity of the West Coast has been represented."

Courtesy of the artist, Photo credit: Chris Burden

'Untitled' (1967) by Chris Burden.

Richard Koshalek, now director of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, was the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art for almost two decades. He’s keen on a P.S.T. show called It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles, 1969-1973, at the Pomona College of Art, that explores the adventurous curating that went on there.

“Artists were living in Pomona, [and] a good number were working there. There were the artists we all know, like James Turrell, for example, and Michael Asher was another major one that did an installation there that I remember. I take this as the kind of information that is now desperately needed, having to do with what happened in southern California. [Pomona curator]  Helene Winer was dealing with [John] Baldessari, she was dealing with William Wegman at the time. I think it's been totally neglected.”

Collection San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. ©Kenneth Price, Photo: Courtesy SFMOMA

'L. Red' (1963), a ceramic work by Kenneth Price

Sharon Lockhart, a major L.A. talent, makes subtle, poetic films about everyday life. Her latest, Lunch Break, observes the workers at a shipyard in Maine during the times when they aren’t working. She says that the Pacific Standard Time festival is “super overwhelming, and it's super hard to choose, because there are so many good things.” The show she did choose will have art very different from hers: It’s called Clay's Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968, at Scripps College. (It opens Jan. 21.)

“I'm really into craft and ceramics and there’s a lot of that happening in Pacific Standard Time. This show is definitely going to bring ceramics out into the foreground. I teach at the University of Southern California, and Ken Price actually taught there for years and that was one of the reasons that I took the job—because I wanted to sit in on his classes and see Ken Price in action. And then he retired. Ceramics was always this art that people didn't pay attention to, and now it's everywhere. I see young artists working with clay in really interesting ways, and bringing it into installation. It’s very contemporary, right now.”

Courtesy the artist. Photo Alan Shaffer

' ''15'' Cube,' made of vapor-coated glass, by Larry Bell

Larry Bell was one of the most important figures in a 1960s movement sometimes called Light and Space, or plain California Minimalism, in which sculpture got pared down to its purest, lightest, brightest forms. Rather than heading out to someone else’s show, Bell suggests that people come to him.

“I’m doing a show in my own studio, and I’m most interested in seeing how that plays out, because I’m going to improvise a lot of early work with later work. The first bite will be early things that I’ve saved for years—and then I’m going to be bringing in newer things from over the years and mix it up a little bit. I’m doing the show for myself, but anyone who wants to make an appointment to come and see it is more than welcome. It’s not an art gallery, but it’s a good representation—without any distractions—about me. I took a room next to my present studio for a year, so I’m just going to keep playing with it.”