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Culture Watch: 'Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980'

October 26, 2011 |  9:00 am

PST book 2
'Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980,' various eds.

Getty Publications, $59.95

Consider it the missing general textbook on the rise, fall and transformation of post-World War II art produced in Los Angeles. (The title says L.A., but that mostly recognizes the city's gravitational pull on the larger Southern California region, which the book also partly covers.) Editors Rebecca Peabody, Andrew Perchuk, Glenn Phillips, Rani Singh and Joan Weinstein -- plus 17 other contributing authors -- took two worthwhile paths.

One divides the story into five main chapters, which chronicle the cultural and social contexts within which art and an art scene emerged. (They include Regis Philbin's understandably puzzled 1974 television interview with Chris Burden, which got hung up on "Shoot," the artist's private Santa Ana gallery-performance in which he had himself shot in the arm by a friend.) Like the Getty Museum's concurrent exhibition "Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970," which has no catalog, it begins with an important premise: Anyone who thinks that major postwar American art must begin with practitioners of Abstract Expressionist painting will never understand art history or L.A.'s art.

The other path, quirkier and in some ways more enlightening, consists of 31 "sidebars." Bite-size detours venture into important topics like Vincent Price's ill-fated 1947 attempt to launch a modern art museum in Beverly Hills, the Golden State Mutual insurance company's formation of an African American art collection and the unprecedented video program at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Adding nuance and lively detail, the sidebars fill out the main chapters' larger sweep, resulting in a solid standard text on the period.

-- Christopher Knight