LOS ANGELES, CA.-
This October the Hammer Museum
will present Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 19601980, a comprehensive exhibition that examines the vital legacy of the citys African American visual artists. Now Dig This! comprises 140 works from 35 artists that have rarely been shown in a museum setting and includes early pieces by now well-established artists. The exhibition expands the art historical record by presenting an array of artists, some not widely recognized by a broad public, and connecting their work to the movements, trends, and ideas that fueled the arts in Los Angeles during this period. The work of these African American practitioners was animated to an extent by the civil rights and Black Power movements reflecting the changing sense of what constituted African American identity and American culture. Artists featured in the exhibition include Melvin Edwards, Fred Eversley, David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Alonzo Davis, Dale Brockman Davis, Noah Purifoy, Betye Saar, and Charles White.
Now Dig This! is presented as part of Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California. For six months beginning in October 2011 these institutions large and small will tell the story of the birth of L.A.s art scene and how it became a new force in the art world. Organized by the Hammer and curated by Columbia University professor Kellie Jones, Now Dig This! chronicles and celebrates this nuanced and multicultural history of Los Angeles.
Pacific Standard Time is a very significant event for the city of Los Angeles. The deep and remarkable history it explores serves as a foundation for the thriving creative community of artists living and working here today, remarks Hammer director Ann Philbin. Now Dig This! reveals a specific moment when a group of African American artists, gallerists, writers, and collectors generated a nexus of creativity and influence that is largely unknown to the general public.
While much has been written about artists like Ed Ruscha, Judy Chicago, Edward Kienholz, and Bruce Nauman, artists like Fred Eversley, John Otterbridge, and Noah Purifoy have not enjoyed the same recognition. Additionally, there has been significant attention paid to Los Angeless Ferus Gallery and the development of Artforum magazine, however far less is known about their African American counterparts such as Alonzo and Dale Davis, owners of the Brockman Gallery; and Samella Lewis, who began Black Art: An International Quarterly (now the International Review of African American Art) and wrote the two-volume Black Artists on Art.
The artists that have been included in Now Dig This! represent a vibrant group whose work is critical to a more complete and dynamic understanding of twentieth century American art. Their influence goes beyond their immediate creative circles and their legacy is something we are only now beginning to fully understand, says exhibition curator Kellie Jones.
By illuminating the richness and complexity of this creative community, Now Dig This! demonstrates how these African American artists and friends were not working in isolation but were quite integral to the developing U.S. art scene during the latter part of the twentieth century. The exhibition will offer a fuller view of the changing art landscape during this important era of artistic and cultural ferment, as artists shifted from more traditional formats such as painting and works on paper to modes such as assemblage, finish fetish (a West Coast style of minimalism), postminimalism, conceptualism, and performance.
Presented in the Hammers main temporary exhibition galleries, Now Dig This! looks at the period through several framing categories with each artist having his or her own space.
*FRONT RUNNERS -- By the early 1960s the West Coast became highly visible among the international arts community with the recognition of assemblage as an important artistic strategy. African American artists such as Betye Saar and Mel Edwards made some of their earliest important works at this time. Charles White, a veteran social realist from Chicago, arrived in Los Angeles in 1956, energizing the black art community and inspiring many young artists who studied under him at Otis Art Institute. Front runners: Melvin Edwards, William Pajaud, Betye Saar and Charles White.
*ASSEMBLING -- The Watts Rebellion of 1965 was the largest urban riot at that time in U.S. history. The Rebellion had a profound effect on this community of artists and many began to approach their craft and materials differently. For example, Noah Purifoy claimed that it was the Rebellion that made him a real artist. Purifoy and John Riddle made assemblage works from the detritus of the Watts Rebellion, creating formally impressive pieces that were also highly charged politically. Assembling: Daniel Larue Johnson, John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy, John Riddle, and Betye Saar.
*ARTISTS/GALLERISTS -- Lacking representation in mainstream institutions, African American artists opened their own venues in the 1960s and 1970s. Spaces such as Gallery 32, founded by painter Suzanne Jackson, and the Brockman Galleryestablished by brothers Dale and Alonzo Davis, became sites for cutting-edge work and havens for discussions, poetry readings, and fund-raisers for social causes. Samella Lewis was an amazing one-woman institution, opening several galleries and a museum, starting a magazine, and publishing some of the earliest books on this cohort of artists. Artists/Gallerists: Alonzo Davis, Dale Brockman Davis, Suzanne Jackson, and Samella Lewis.
*POST/MINIMALISM AND PERFORMANCE -- This section of the exhibition documents the move away from more didactic subject matter toward abstract and dematerialized practices. Fred Eversley was the most visible African American working with the finish fetish style of Los Angeles minimalism in the 1960s. In the 1970s artists such as Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger, and David Hammons began to experiment with postminimal ephemerality and performance. Post/Minimalism and Performance: Fred Eversley, David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, and Senga Nengudi.
*LOS ANGELES SNAPSHOT / FRIENDS -- The exhibition also explores the informal relationships between African American artists in Los Angeles and those in Northern California, like Joe Overstreet and Raymond Saunders, as well as artists of varied ethnic backgrounds, such as Virginia Jaramillo, Ron Miyashiro, and Mark Di Suvero. These relationships are an important part of fully understanding and contextualizing the work of this generation. One gallery in Now Dig This! will illuminate these connections. Friends: John Altoon, Karen Boccalero, Mark Di Suvero, Charles Gaines, Virginia Jaramillo, Marie Johnson Calloway, Houston Conwill, Elizabeth Leigh-Taylor, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Ron Miyashiro, Joe Overstreet, Raymond Saunders, Gordon Wagner, Tyrus Wong, and Andrew Zermeño.
Catalogue & Public Programs
The exhibition is accompanied by a 350 page, full-color catalogue co-published by Delmonico/Prestel. The publication includes reproductions of works included in the exhibition supplemented by scholarly essays, a comprehensive bibliography, and reproductions of archival materials, including posters, invitations, documentary photographs, and other items recently uncovered. The exhibition will be accompanied by several free public programs, including performances, film screenings, and lectures.