Pacific Standard Time, L.A.'s 60-museum retrospective on L.A. art 1945-1980, is mostly packaged in box sets, each museum or gallery exhibition the visual equivalent of a multi-part, themed concept album.
But despite all the carefully cultivated curatorial choices, as you move from show to show, it's the singles that really pop out. Especially fun to find are those individual works that never quite topped the charts but definitely hold their own against bigger hits.
Here are some gems by PST artists who aren't aren't quite household names and don't appear in any promo videos with Jason Schwartzman:
6. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
If pop art is all about playing up celebrity and poking at popularity, can you be obscure and still a legitimate pop artist? Cardwell Jimmerson Gallery's “Sub-Pop” exhibition asks that question. Michael Olodort's Humpty Dumpty paintings appear in the show — in one, Humpty, pieced together like an ill-fitted puzzle, wears a mad grin. They feel like character actors from a world that favored leading men. They're quirkier, looser and more absurd than anything by Warhol or Ruscha.
5. DIY traffic control
Artist Gary Beydler took traffic into his own hands for his 1974 film Pasadena Freeway Stills, which you can see if you make the trek down to Orange County Museum of Art's “States of Mind” show. He photographed the 110 freeway and filmed himself holding the printed pics up to the camera one by one. Then he sped up the frames so the freeway images change in rapid succession. Traffic's both frozen in place and moving steadily, a perfect contradiction and a SoCal driver's perfect fantasy.
4. Light and space for dummies
Bruce Nauman made Yellow Room (Triangular), a tall-walled plywood contraption the size of a walk-in closet, in 1973, the same year light and space artist James Turrell began his first skyspace. Unlike Turrell and other masters of illusion, Nauman took a dumb-fisted approach to his light space. At the Orange County Museum of Art, yellow fluorescent lights hang in plain view above his three-sided room, and even though you feel tripped out the moment you enter, you know exactly what you've gotten yourself into. Turns out transcendence can be transparent.
3. A hole ahead of its time
In 1980, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz set up two two-way video screens, one in Century City and one at Lincoln Center in New York. They used satellite technology to connect the two screens, but didn't publicize the project, now called Hole in Space. They just waited to see who would discover these real-time portals into another city. Over the three days the screens were up, the crowds gathered in front of them got bigger and bigger. People rendezvoused with family members remotely, flirted, proposed. At 18th St. Art Center, you can stand right between the video feeds as 1980s New York talks to 1980s L.A.
2. Writing the President
Enter through the museum's front door and Llyn Foulkes' work will be among the first things you see in “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974-1981” at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary. One painting in particular, Letter to President Ford, overflows with frustration. Painted the year Nixon left and President Ford took office, it depicts a greenish Ford with a white envelope stuck onto his face, clinging to a grisly cake of blood. If only a letter could have an impact half that brutal.
1. All-American anti-patriot
Ed Bereal's American Beauty, hung in the Getty's “Crosscurrents” show, is the shape of an oversize dustpan with the surface of a custom car. It has a gnarly tree branch sticking up out of the top that contradicts its otherwise pristine body and it juts out from the wall in an aggressive way, forcing you to notice the black Swastika and red, white and blue on its surface. Materially, it's wholly a product of American industry, and yet it's confused, and confusing, as an object. Is it patriotic? Is it fascistic? Is it both? I saw it in person for the first time Sunday and haven't stopped thinking about it.