By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Last week, we began our highly subjective tour through LACMA‘s biggest, most ambitious exhibition ever. (If that issue isn’t still lining the birdcage, see www.laweek ly.comink0103art-harvey.shtml.) In Part One, we toured Sections 1 and 2 in the Hammer Building, taking us up to 1940. This week, we resume on the third floor of the Anderson Building, with the first of three more two-decade cross sections of California‘s visual history:
SECTION 3, 1940--1960: “CALIFORNIA AND WWII, A POSTWAR EDEN, THE BEATS AND JAZZ CULTURE, SPIRITUAL EXPLORATIONS, THE BODY BEAUTIFUL, HOLLYWOOD: THE DARKER SIDE, AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE”
The first port of call in this section is some bonus tracks to the recent excellent Charles and Ray Eames show, including a stack of their World War II leg splints and a molded plywood stretcher. In the next, suburban, chamber there’s a startlingly proto-pop canvas of freeway signs by Roger Kuntz, as well as another oddball building portrait by Edward Biberman. Richard Diebenkorn makes a strong first appearance with a small landscape entitled Freeway and Aqueduct (1957), and an exquisite egg tempera by Clinton Adams entitled Barrington Street renders Salomon Huerta‘s recent tractscapes a little redundant. The Midcentury Modern Environment is stuffed into an awkward dead end, but contains more Eames and other postwar designer furniture. Find the groovy modular ceramic sculptures by Lagardo Tackett at the very back, as well as the first of two pellucid John McLaughlin paintings in the show.
The Beatnik subsection features a kickass selection of macho gestural ceramic work from Peter Voulkos, John Mason et al., situated opposite one of Jess’ Tricky Cad series of surreal poetic deconstructions of “Dick Tracy” Sunday pages and a case displaying Wallace Berman‘s seminal 1955--64 zine Semina. A small but potent Bruce Conner assemblage, Portrait of Allen Ginsberg (1960), makes a nice set of bookends with Ed Kienholz’s Illegal Operation (1962). The next room is one of two that deals with “Spirituality,” apparently meaning “abstraction.” This is an excellent room, with a large and deeply encrusted painting by Jay DeFeo, 1959‘s The Jewel, as well as a minisurvey of Dynaton (French for “peyote-addled”) artists Wolfgang Paalen, Gordon Onslow Ford and Lee Mullican. A second and even more serene McLaughlin painting hangs adjacent to a viewing station for experimental abstract films, including works by Harry Smith and Oskar Fischinger.
The next gallery offers a nice selection of Bay Area figurative abstraction by David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Paul Wonner and others, so just ignore the bric-a-brac and bask before all the big, sumptuous paintings. Take particular note of Joan Brown’s over-the-top Girl in Chair (1962), with the paint laid on so thick it probably still isn‘t dry. Proceed to “Hollywood: The Darker Side,” beginning with a very peculiar authorless installation of little TV sets playing simultaneous looped testimony from the HUAC Hollywood witch-hunts. Another nice Biberman painting is the only real highlight of this section, but grab a peek at Hans Burkhardt’s thrift-store allegorical portrait of Ronald Reagan on your way out. Jog down the stairs and have your bar code scanned to enter:
SECTION 4, 1960--1980: “BEACH AND CAR CULTURES, COUNTERCULTURE, THE SPIRITUAL IN ART, AND THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE”
The first room in this section is my favorite in the whole exhibit. While a loop of James Dean and Gidget movie clips set to Junior Walker‘s “Roadrunner” cycles away, check out the two full-size oddball vehicles -- the shell- and jewel-encrusted Derby Racer (1975) by Larry Fuente, and the car-toonish Road Agent customized by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Surrounding them are a number of automotively inspired artworks, including a hammered and lacquered Billy Al Bengston from 1970, a surprising 1964 car-hood abstraction by Judy Chicago, shiny ceramic nodules by Ken Price, documentation of Chris Burden’s 1974 crucified-to-a-Volkswagen performance Trans-fixed, and a beautiful large pink-and-yellow Plexiglas lozenge from Craig Kauffman. This last is situated over the entrance to the next gallery, through which it is nicely echoed by Roto (1968), one of Ron Davis‘ still-hot geometrically shaped resin paintings. As you pass through, make sure to look back above the door to catch another echo, Claes Oldenburg’s molded plastic lithograph Profile Airflow (1968--69). There are some nice Ed Ruschas in this room, but you should have seen them in the print show this summer. Instead, a copy of Jose Bueno‘s 1969 calendar of (male) L.A. artists in their cars is laid out for your ogling pleasure, plus the best work I’ve seen by Peter Alexander: 1966‘s Cloud Box.
After you pass the criminally installed, allegedly motorized, but still lovely Synchronetic C-4400-s Series by Fletcher Benton, the kicks dwindle markedly. The next several clusters of work are collectively labeled “Counterculture,” meaning hippies, feminists and persons of color, in that order. First, there’s a minor William Wiley watercolor worth seeing, and a strange psychedelic landscape by Gage Taylor. Before entering the curved chamber of psychedelia, run around the other side and set the video program for Judy Chicago‘s Menstruation Bathroom, which has a great droning soundtrack and not much else to recommend it. Back in the lustrous golden spiral, groove on the vintage Hashbury posters, the disturbing funk assemblage of Robert Hudson’s Running Through the Woods (1975), and Robert Arneson‘s archly iconic ceramic sculpture John With Art (1964). Ignore the clothes and act nonchalant as you rush past the feminist and racial political art (though the ephemera case is particularly rewarding), pausing at the last minute to appreciate, in 1970’s Injustice Case, an early David Hammons mono-print self-portrait -- in margarine and graphite (now why didn‘t this technique catch on?) -- as Bobby Seale. You can skip the back section -- the best thing is Michael McMillen’s garage installation, and it‘s always there. But a few galleries up look for his excellent pedestal-as-core-sample landscape sculpture Nipomo.