Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.
I was hesitant to compare “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” at the Hammer Museum and “Places of Validation, Art & Progression” at the California African American Museum. Both shows feature many of the same artists and cover overlapping periods (“Places” stretches back to 1940), but in lumping them together, I’m reinforcing the separation of both from the mainstream. Still, there’s something to be said for acknowledging the histories of our varied relationships to this thing called art and the institutions that support and police it. “Now Dig This!” and “Places of Validation” are actually complementary shows that together provide a fuller picture of art by African Americans in Los Angeles.
“Now Dig This!” is the more easily digestible of the two. As Christopher Knight noted in his review, its story is “not so much unknown as underknown.” Divided into four clear sections, the show provides a broad historical and political context for the work of artists like David Hammons, Betye Saar, Mel Edwards, Noah Purifoy, and John Outterbridge. And, perhaps in an attempt to unmoor the show from a strictly defined “black” identity, it also includes a section that mixes works by African American artists with those of their non-black peers and friends.