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Pacific Standard Time: Timeline 1945-1980

Watts Towers
JULIUS SHULMAN PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. COPYRIGHT J. PAUL GETTY TRUST

1945: Neapolitan immigrant Simon Rodia is midway through building the biggest, weirdest and least commercially viable sculpture in Los Angeles in the historically black neighborhood of Watts, the Watts Towers. Rumor has it that an alternate site was where the Beverly Hilton is in Beverly Hills, which, some argue, would have been a better long-term real estate deal for Rodia.

1947: Artist Kenneth Anger makes Fireworks, one of his few surviving early films. The Santa Monica native, onetime child actor, avowed occultist and author of movie-industry scandal compendium Hollywood Babylon, with his mix of glamour, power and sexuality, is our first truly significant homegrown Los Angeles artist, even if most people think of him only as a gay magician.

1955: The future co-founder of CalArts opens the most ridiculously successful art project in the history of mankind: Disneyland. It isn't known if any art critics attended the opening.

1956: Venice-based Charles and Ray Eames (that's husband and wife, not brothers) design the Eames lounge chair, the first and only chair inspired by a first baseman's mitt.

1957: Curator Walter Hopps, artist Ed Kienholz and poet Bob Alexander open Ferus Gallery, seen as the origin myth for contemporary art in the city — especially if you're talking to Irving Blum, who quit selling furniture to take over the gallery in 1958 and turned this ragtag bunch of beatniks into an excellent business decision.

1962: Walter Hopps, now curator at the Pasadena Art Museum, curates the first museum exhibition of American pop art, followed in 1963 by the first retrospective of Marcel Duchamp. His amazing vision, compounded by his practical inability to show up on time, gets him fired in 1967.

1964: David Hockney moves to Los Angeles, ostensibly to better research two important subjects of his work: pools and boys.

1968: Bruce Nauman moves to Pasadena, where he figures out one of the most important breakthroughs in modern art, which later wins him a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale: Pacing around and drinking too much coffee can be art.

1970: John Baldessari cremates his paintings, Allan Kaprow brings his "happenings" West, David Hammons prints his body, CalArts opens as perhaps the first conceptual art school and Paul McCarthy settles in Los Angeles. A pretty damn good year.

1971: Although Channa Horwitz was tacitly included in LACMA's famous "Art and Technology" exhibition, the catalog cover pictures 64 participants, all of them men. Much to the museum's surprise, feminists are miffed.

And in one of the more dangerous acts of early performance art, Chris Burden arranges to get himself shot. It's widely considered a seminal work of American art, and some critics wonder why more performance artists aren't also shot.

1972: Asco claims LACMA as a work of art by spray-painting its members' signatures on the front wall. The museum itself, with characteristic tact, mistakes it for vandalism and paints over it.

1977: Raymond Pettibon draws his first cover for his brother's band, Black Flag, along with the band's classic logo of four black bars. Though Pettibon becomes famous for his pen-and-ink drawings, those bars become his most enduring legacy, tattooed on thousands of teenage punks.

1978: Jeffrey Vallance buys a chicken at Ralphs, names it Blinky and holds its funeral at Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park. A year earlier he had walked into LACMA dressed as a janitor, installed new electrical outlet covers that had his drawings on them and invited his friends to the "opening." In the 1980s, he took his career to the next logical step: MTV veejay.

1980: In October, Public Spirit becomes the largest performance-art festival in North America. The second edition is set for January 2012. Judging by the extent of the genre's appeal, the third seems likely in 2050.

—Andrew Berardini


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