The story of how, despite great odds, a viable art scene bloomed in Southern California.
When the notable Ferus Gallery closed in 1966, Los Angeles lost its most prominent champion of contemporary art. However, as Fallon (How to Analyze the Works of Andy Warhol, 2010, etc.) shows in this panoramic survey, local artists continued to innovate and thrive throughout the next decade. The art that “percolated up from the streets of L.A.” did not adhere to any one school or ideology but instead arose “out of a public need for life-affirming culture and aesthetics.” Women, Chicanos and African-Americans enlivened the art scene by moving outside of the studio and into public spaces with performance art, graffiti and murals. Many artists, writes the author, “rejected commercialism, commodification, and formalism,” producing work that was often outrageous, provocative and “occasionally revolutionary.” The image of the artist, too, underwent radical change from “a maker of objects” and “a presence in the studio” to someone who enacted an idea intended to shock, or at least unsettle, viewers. In Five Day Locker Piece, for example, artist Chris Burden immured himself in a locker; in another piece, he lay under a pane of glass, in a museum, for several days. Kustom Kulture—the culture of hot rods—influenced many LA artists who came to be known as the Cool School; captivated by cars’ speed and freedom, they transposed the automobile’s slick finishes and “muscularity of form” into their works. Among the artists featured in this populous study are the feisty Judy Chicago, leader of feminist art; “wily, fast-talking” Allan Kaprow and “laconic” John Baldessari, both acclaimed teachers who inspired acolytes; and Dutch-born Bastian Jan Ader, who died in one ill-fated piece of performance art. With little money and rare critical support, the disparate LA community, Fallon argues, set the stage for the future of art.
A well-researched, wide-ranging history that amply captures the confusion, contradictions and enormous energy of one triumphant decade.