The eruption of Conceptual art as a major force is the subject of "State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970," a rambunctious Pacific Standard Time exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art. In some senses it forms a narrow prologue to the Museum of Contemporary Art's wide-ranging PST entry, "Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981." That show charts the collapse of a linear, monolithic artistic mainstream and the spread of more diverse, pluralistic art forms throughout the state. Conceptual art was its bellwether.
However different the two shows are, they do share something in common: A viewer will be struck by a near absence of color in the galleries, in favor of the prominence of black and white. There are a couple of reasons for this.
One is the pointed distinction many artists were making with contemporaneous Color Field painting, touted by the establishment as art's Next Big Thing.
In 1964, New York critic Clement Greenberg rounded up 31 American and Canadian artists for a sprawling Color Field show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Greenberg preferred the term "post-painterly abstraction," which he used as the exhibition's title, but it meant the same thing as Color Field.) The show traveled to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, two influential outposts where the New York mainstream was often embraced.
Although LACMA's show included some first-rate California artists, such as Sam Francis and Emerson Woelffer, they were added to the roster by a LACMA curator, not chosen by Greenberg. His show was widely seen as representing the voice of authority, which rankled in a newly anti-authoritarian era.
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.
With a few exceptions, the only art I’ve seen since September has been part of Pacific Standard Time, a circumstance that leaves me feeling as if I’m traveling in a wobbly time warp that nets out somewhere in the early 1970s. “State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970” at the Orange County Museum of Art does little to dispel this sensation, focusing on a narrow but fertile span of time, from the late 1960s to the mid-'70s.
It includes more than 150 works of art that could be described as “conceptual,” that is, installation, performance, video — basically, any form that didn’t come with centuries of artistic, moneyed baggage. Since then, of course, conceptual art has become a dominant influence (and is exceedingly marketable), and many of these works are familiar. Ed Ruscha’s artist’s book, “Every Building on the Sunset Strip,” Bas Jan Ader’s films of himself crying and falling, and documentation of Chris Burden’s “Shoot,” in which he had himself shot in the arm, are unavoidable but obligatory signposts.
However, the show also includes many surprises. An uncharacteristically demure 1971 work by Paul McCarthy is a sequence of 25 slides of the same street corner taken at different moments. Equally modest and self-contained is a clear plastic wall piece by Michael Asher, better known for large-scale architectural interventions.
Most intriguing is documentation of a spate of performance works by San Francisco Bay Area artists, a cohort somewhat outside the official scope of PST but one that has resonance for OCMA. Formerly known as the Newport Harbor Art Museum, it played host to a range of conceptual art shows, including “The San Francisco Performance Exhibition” in 1972. Curated by artist Tom Marioni, it included an interactive piece by Paul Kos — daring visitors to use a pool table surrounded by animal traps — and a work by Bonnie Sherk in which a rat gave birth inside a tent.
Nowadays PETA would have something to say about that, but Sherk also put her own body out there. In 1971’s “Public Lunch,” she dined in a cage in the Lion House at the San Francisco Zoo alongside feline neighbors enjoying their meals. And in “Sitting Still Series,” she sat in a chair at various outdoor locations for an hour at a time. Effecting a subtle, fleeting change in the landscape, she became a work of public sculpture, in a way, but also drew attention to the plain fact of physical presence.
Sherk’s performances weren’t explicitly political, but other Bay Area artists joined public art with activism. In 1969, Joe Hawley, Mel Henderson and Alfred Young wrote the word “OIL” in nontoxic dye in the waters of San Francisco Bay near the Standard Oil docks. They also once called 100 yellow cabs to the intersection of Market and Castro in San Francisco, strangling traffic in a move that presaged flash mob tactics.
Terri Keyser, Marc Keyser and David Shire of Sam’s Café, a collective run out of a former greasy spoon near UC Berkeley, also orchestrated several, er, time-based, participatory works that might otherwise be regarded as complex pranks or nascent forms of culture jamming. For their final piece in 1971, titled “Sam’s Collection Agency,” they sent fake bills to middle-income San Francisco residents with contact phone numbers for the local newspapers, TV stations and Bank of America. The switchboards clogged with calls. These companies also received a “press kit” from Sam’s Café that included vials purportedly filled with the artists’ excrement. Tried in federal court for sending a “filthy and vile substance” through the mail, the artists were acquitted on the testimony of an expert witness — an art critic — who stated that the act was in fact conceptual art.
Although there is plenty to look at in “State of Mind,” the exhibition’s chief appeal is stories like these — the narratives that unfold from the objects. It’s the way in which conceptual art foregrounds that unspooling, the point at which art meets life (and sometimes disappears into it) that has made it so endlessly compelling. As artist Douglas Huebler once said, “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting: I do not wish to add any more.”
-- Sharon Mizota
Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach, (949) 759-1122, through Jan. 22. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. www.ocma.net
Photos, from top: Bonnie Sherk, "Sitting Still II," November 1970 from the "Sitting Still" series; performance documentation: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. Photo: Robert Campbell / Chamois Moon, courtesy SFMOMA Research Library and Archives.
Chris Burden, "Shoot," Nov. 19, 1971; performance at F Space, Santa Ana, Calif. Photo courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; gift of the Naify Family. Descriptive text for "Shoot": “At 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket .22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.”
Leave it to the folks at Google to use the latest technology to update the artwork of Alexander Calder. Today's Google homepage celebrates the American artist's 113th birthday by using a Calder mobile in place of the company logo. The mobile swings on your computer -- and even tilts if you have the right kind of laptop.
Before we get technical, a little bit about the artist:
"Even people who don't know art know Alexander Calder's art," Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote of Calder earlier this year. "Forever identified with the mobile, Calder gave sculptural form to currents of air."
Of Calder's talent, Knight wrote:
"He of course did much more in a long art-life that was encouraged from childhood by a sculptor-father and a painter-mother. But, formally schooled as a mechanical engineer, Calder had the tools, after he decided to become an artist, to bring seemingly effortless elements of balance and poise to bits of broken glass and plastic, chunks of wood and, most often, curved and painted metal plates suspended from a hanging system of interconnected rods."
Southern Californians can check out Calder's work at the show "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy" at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach through Sept. 4.
And now about how Google created the doodle:
Art review: 'Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy' at Orange County Museum of Art
Even people who don't know art know Alexander Calder's art. Forever identified with the mobile, Calder gave sculptural form to currents of air.
He of course did much more in a long art-life that was encouraged from childhood by a sculptor-father and a painter-mother. But, formally schooled as a mechanical engineer, Calder had the tools, after he decided to become an artist, to bring seemingly effortless elements of balance and poise to bits of broken glass and plastic, chunks of wood and, most often, curved and painted metal plates suspended from a hanging system of interconnected rods.
Calder did not invent kinetic art. But, born on the cusp of a new century (in 1898), he made motion elemental to modern artistic conceptions. So thoroughly successful was he -- and so delightfully accessible to a general public often mystified by the puzzles of 20th century abstraction -- that today it's more common than not to find mobiles of every imaginable commercial stripe suspended over babies' cribs.
Perhaps that explains the most surprising aspect of "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy," a traveling exhibition that opened Sunday at the Orange County Museum of Art. Virtually all 22 sculptures by its seven younger artists are motionless.
Some are suspended from the ceiling. A few are fashioned with wire. Others are assembled in a manner that suggests a mechanical engineer's construction methods.
A couple even appear to have individual parts that retain the capacity to move, if push came to shove. Yet it's almost as if the equation between "Calder" and "mobile" is so complete and indivisible as to make any direct influence foolhardy and off-limits. The risk is less about being shown up by a master of Calder's caliber, since any artist worth his or her salt craves such challenges, and more about the threat of descending into the zone of baby's crib. Why even go there?
The Orange County Museum of Art's 2010 California Biennial catalog has been published, complete with the on-site installation photographs of the survey that delayed publication until now. (The show, which continues to March 13, opened in October.) It's not the best statewide biennial that OCMA has done, but it does feature a respectable number of first-rate artists.
One nice feature of the catalog -- in addition to those installation photographs, plus a back-of-the-book floorplan of the show's layout -- is the inclusion of interviews with all 45 individual artists and collectives. The 209-page book is available from the museum for $39.95.
-- Christopher Knight
NEWPORT BEACH -- Biennial. These days the word generates conflicting responses of anticipation and dread.
Anticipation because any sizable survey of recent contemporary art assembled by a museum curator with an eye (plus an ear to the ground) will include at least some unexpected surprises. Juxtaposed with sure-things -- artists who, for one reason or another, drew unusual recent notice -- the biennial mixture can be lively and enlightening.
And dread because -- aside from the inevitable inclusion of mediocrities or worse -- there's always the possibility for big, unsustainable claims about so-called trends, which rarely fit into calendar-driven packages. Depending on the survey's geographical territory, a biennial can easily stray into myopia. And walking in the door, anyone who follows art already has a handy mental list of "clearly" better artists who would have been better to include to make a better show.
Orange County Museum of Art curator Sarah C. Bancroft is well aware of the duality. Her current California Biennial's catalog introduction, due to be published later this month, makes that plain. The particular fusion of anticipation plus dread is pretty much why biennials have the general reputation of being shows you love to hate.
The Orange County Museum of Art has selected more than 40 artists and collaborative groups to participate in the 2010 California Biennial.
The exhibition, which will run Oct. 24 to March 13, is designed to showcase new developments in contemporary art with an emphasis on emerging artists from around the state.
This year's participants were chosen by OCMA curator Sarah Bancroft, who is curating the biennial. They represent the fields of drawing and works on paper, film and video, large-scale installation, painting, performance and dance, photography, sculpture and text-based work.
Here's the list of the 2010 California Biennial artists:
The total amount of money in question reportedly amounts to more than $100,000. Some of the arts organizations have filed a formal complaint to the New York attorney general's office.
A spokeswoman for OCMA said today that it has received a letter from the foundation stating that the grant money will be paid. The museum added that its grant from the foundation was for $4,000 and is intended to go toward costs associated with the works of Florence Miller Pierce in an exhibition titled "Illumination."
"We now expect that we will receive the money," said the spokeswoman. OCMA was not one of the institutions to file a complaint with the New York attorney general's office, according to the spokeswoman.
Also among the museums left in the lurch is the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach.
The museum was supposed to receive $5,000 from the foundation toward the catalog that will accompany the exhibition "Resistance/Reactions: A Michael Goldberg Retrospective."
"It all seems a little unusual, but appears they will come through," said Christopher Scoates, the museum's director, when asked about the foundation's non-payment.
For the second time, the Orange County Museum of Art has postponed its much-anticipated exhibition "Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, 1967-1985." Originally scheduled to open in October, the survey of major abstract paintings by the late California artist had been pushed to April after the national economy soured last year.
Now the show has been removed from the museum's schedule. No date has been announced, although OCMA insists the cancellation is temporary.
According to a museum spokesman, the Diebenkorn exhibition "continues to grow in scope and size and therefore, we’re reassessing the entire schedule for its presentation here and at the other venues." The "Ocean Park" series is the most widely admired body of paintings by Diebenkorn (1922-93), who first came to prominence in the Bay Area but who worked in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
Monster Mash: Broads make ARTnews 200 ranking; more Michael Jackson tributes; opera star DiDonato breaks her leg
-- Art-world elite: Eli and Edythe Broad are among those who made ARTnews magazine's recently released ranking of the world's top 200 art collectors.
-- Dedication: The London and touring productions of "Thriller -- Live" are scheduled to pay onstage tribute to Michael Jackson today with speeches and a moment of silence.
-- Something fishy: Times art critic Christopher Knight examines OCMA's deaccessioning merry-go-round.
-- Starchitecture: Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation has revealed duplex designs by 14 prominent architecture firms, including Gehry Partners, in its ongoing effort to rebuild New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.
-- Did she take it literally?: Opera star Joyce DiDonato breaks her leg on opening night of "The Barber of Seville" at London's Royal Opera House. The mezzo-soprano will reprise her role in "Barber" at LA Opera in November.
-- Auction house blues: Sales at London's June auctions of Impressionist and contemporary works of art fell 70% from the same month last year.
-- Caveat emptor: Counterfeits are flooding the Russian avant-garde art market, far outnumbering the quantity of authentic works.
-- Kumar goes to Washington: Actor Kal Penn begins his new job this week as part of the White House's Office of Public Liaison, where he will help the Obama administration connect with arts and entertainment groups as well as the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
-- Making room: In a controversial move, Boston's Gardner Museum has demolished a carriage house to create space for new buildings designed by Renzo Piano.
-- Back for more: John Malkovich is currently reprising his role as serial killer Jack Unterweger in a touring European stage production. The actor first performed the role in L.A. in May 2008.
-- Best of the '80s: The cast recording of Broadway's "Rock of Ages" hits stores today. The Tony-nominated musical began its life in Hollywood before moving to Las Vegas and eventually to New York.
-- Actresses: Leslie Caron will join Kristin Scott Thomas in a Paris production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," which is set for Feb. 2010.
-- David Ng
Photo: Eli and Edythe Broad. Credit: Dan Steinberg / Associated Press