A moment arrives in the life of important art when, for better and for worse, it becomes fully institutionalized. To paraphrase -- and slightly modify -- Cézanne, what was once new, confusing and dynamic switches gears, becoming "something solid and enduring, like the art of the museums." The process occurs over time, not suddenly or with a bang.
It's bittersweet too. Change is always discomfiting.
For art made in Los Angeles in the first generation following World War II, that moment arrives on Saturday. "Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970" opens at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
It's not the first such major museum survey. Denmark's admired Louisiana Museum of Modern Art took the first stab more than a decade ago, with 1998's adventurous "Sunshine and Noir: Art in L.A. 1960-1997." Next, "Made in California: Art, Image and Identity 1900-2000," the statewide show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebrating the new millennium, included a sizable component. The prestigious Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris followed suit in 2007, focusing more closely on the same years as the Getty with "Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Art Capital."
But "Crosscurrents" feels different, and not because it's better or worse than the shows that came before. (Aspects of it are both.) What's different is that it was organized by the Getty.
In 1973, the Chicano art-collective called Asco came up with an inventive project that played off the ambiguities of an increasingly media-dominated culture. Called "No Movies," the works consist of public relations photographs and promotional stills related to movies starring themselves -- albeit movies that do not actually exist.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where a thorough and absorbing retrospective of Asco's work opened on Sunday, one No Movie photograph looks like a scene clipped from working-class Italian Neo-Realist or French New Wave cinema. "First Supper (After a Major Riot)" shows four people -- artists Patssi Valdez, Willie Herrón III, Gronk and occasional Asco contributor Humberto Sandoval -- some wearing masks and all elaborately costumed, partaking of a meal at a table set up on a traffic island beneath a Whittier Blvd. street-sign in East L.A.
A big, baby Jesus-like doll is laid at their feet, a Baroque mirror leaning against the table. Day of the Dead skulls abound, while a stark painting of a headless, spread-eagle figure is propped behind them.
The title's "major riot" was the 1970 Chicano Moratorium in nearby Laguna Park, an anti-Vietnam War and pro-social justice rally that turned into a notorious police-led melee. Asco's "first supper" is a kind of secular resurrection -- a determined return to the street as a scene of political activity, years after such action was suppressed.
The No Movie photograph, shot by Harry Gamboa Jr., Asco's fourth member, poses a trenchant question: What does cultural invisibility mean? The invocation of Hollywood as L.A.'s representative culture industry, plus the absence of an actual movie linked to the photographic image, creates a resounding void that echoes with aching irony. Akin to wondering whether a sound is made in the forest if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, Asco simultaneously asserts and erases its artistic voice.
Art review: 'It Happened at Pomona; Part I: Hal Glicksman' at Pomona College Museum of Art [Updated]
Like 7-Eleven and the drive-through at Del Taco, the Pomona College Museum of Art never closes. At least, not until Nov. 6. Before then, the museum is open all day, every day, 24/7.
That unusual gesture, a project by artist Michael Asher, is a variation on one he did for the museum 41 years ago. The open house is among seven works in the first portion of "It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles, 1969-1973," a three-part historical survey that will unfold through the school year. It's the first show out of the gate in Pacific Standard Time, a panoply of about 60 exhibitions funded by the Getty Trust to explore the early years of art in post-Second World War L.A.
Organized by curator Rebecca McGrew, it focuses on the academic year 1969-1970, when Hal Glicksman, a former installation designer at the Pasadena Art Museum, ran the school's small museum. [Update: The Getty Research Institute's Glenn Phillips co-organized the show.] He invited artists to use one gallery space as a working studio, rather than as a repository for traditional art objects. McGrew's modest, tightly organized show draws unexpected connections.
In 1970 Asher, then 26, divided the gallery into triangular spaces with a narrow slit between them. Most dramatically, one side was left open to the street outside, with no way to close it off. Anyone could enter the gallery at any time -- a peculiar, perhaps even unprecedented state of affairs.