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.
When Josine Ianco Starrels became the director of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG) in 1975, she had a clear vision for the space: “It’s City money. City money comes from L.A. citizens. And I think it should support L.A. artists…where are local artists going to cut their teeth? And who is going to show them?”
Although Pacific Standard Time has told us much about who was indeed showing local artists, Starrels’ point about the city’s money supporting the city’s artists is a key idea behind “Civic Virtue: The Impact of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and the Watts Towers Arts Center.” Split between the two venues, with each institution emphasizing its own history, this sweeping exhibition provides a much-needed vision of art created and presented, not for art’s sake or for profit, but for the public good.
Commercial galleries, no matter how adventurous, are still businesses, and non-profit museums and art spaces, with few exceptions, are beholden to wealthy donors and benefactors. It’s tempting to imagine that government-run institutions, funded by taxpayers, might truly reflect the tastes of the people. The convoluted histories of LAMAG and the Watts Towers Arts Center (WTAC) prove that reality is more complex than that, but “Civic Virtue” still succeeds in reminding us of that original, idealistic impulse: that art should be a central part of civic life.