In case you hadn't heard, there is art in Los Angeles — and a lot of it.
With more than 60 exhibitions by museums, gobs more by commercial galleries, a performance festival and a post-punk parade to wend its way down Broadway, this ginormous art initiative called Pacific Standard Time, officially kicking off Oct. 1, attempts to grapple with the emergence of L.A. art from 1945 to 1980.
The idea is to document the development of L.A. from a cultural backwater to the international contemporary art capital you're still maybe not convinced we are. Funded with $10 million from the Getty (which recently spent $45 million on a single Turner painting, but who's counting?), Pacific Standard Time will attempt to show the circuitous, messy and often awesome gaggle of artists that makes L.A. significant.
Historically, Los Angeles has been a great and shitty place to be an artist. Far enough away from New York to avoid its self-centered grandstanding, Los Angeles has nurtured all the things and people that didn't quite fit anywhere else. But there were never that many art galleries, and the ones that were here had a tendency to ignore art that wasn't slick and sellable. For years, it took a European or New York imprimatur for L.A. to pay attention to its own.
As a result, many of the best artists were usually broke, and for years Southern California gave all these freaks and weirdos, visionaries and misfits cheapish places to live and work, as well as jobs teaching. The likes of John Baldessari, Allan Kaprow and Catherine Opie could do whatever they wanted and not have to think too hard about whether it could sell. They could be free and funny and loose.
We can talk about trends and movements, from light-and-space and punk rock to aggressive '70s performance art, but to try to form some coherent structure is to miss the point of L.A.: There isn't one.
Frank Lloyd Wright once famously said, "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles." What I'm sure Wright meant as an insult is to me a great compliment.
PST can't possibly define Southern California art. But perhaps it can get you to a museum or two, or imbue the city with the legends that make otherwise capable future law school grads dream of rubbing their naked bodies with ketchup before assembled guests for a living.
PST throws down the gauntlet that art in L.A. is no longer becoming but has finally become. I'm not entirely sure if we're better off now than in the long years of seemingly benign neglect. Galleries and museums proliferate, space is not quite as cheap as it used to be, and a whole lot of those artists who come to school here have a crushing student loan debt that almost forces them into making money via premature careers. But perhaps that's why it's sweet and fitting to look back on what got us here.
I just hope that, now that Los Angeles is a serious art city, we don't start taking ourselves too seriously.
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