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Artistic Evolution: Southern California Artists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1945-1963
Karl Benjamin, Vertical Stripes #3, 1959, 42” x 48,” Oil on canvas. ©Karl Benjamin. Courtesy of Lois Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood, CA. Photograph by Gerard Vuilleumier.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County presents Artistic Evolution: Southern California Artists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1945-1963 as its contribution to the major initiative Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 - 1980. On view through January 15, 2012, Artistic Evolution is inspired by works that were shown at NHM when it was the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, the first dedicated museum building in Los Angeles. The Exposition Park museum historically played a crucial role in nurturing the dynamism and richness of the Los Angeles art scene through exhibitions and the coveted annual purchase prize. In the mid 1960s, art exhibitions were moved from the Museum to the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard, and NHM focused its mission on natural history.

Artistic Evolution: Southern California Artists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1945-1963 is part of Pacific Standard Time, an unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, that brings together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months beginning October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene.

The works on view in Artistic Evolution were shown in the context of the Museum’s “Annual Exhibition, Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity” series and related contemporary exhibitions from 1940-1961. In addition to these annual showcases of contemporary local art, the Exposition Park site boasted world-class exhibitions of Renaissance and Baroque masters, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist shows featuring Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir; and cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions originated by leading New York institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was a place for artists of all generations and inclinations to see and learn and respond to their predecessors, peers, teachers and students.

Guest curated by art historian Dr. Charlotte Eyerman, Artistic Evolution includes paintings, drawings, and prints that shed new light on post-war art in Los Angeles, including works by local favorites who are not widely known today outside of Los Angeles, as well as historically important artists. The exhibition features works by John Altoon, John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Karl Benjamin, Tony Berlant, Hans Burkhardt, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, Robert Irwin, Ynez Johnston, Craig Kauffman, Rico Lebrun, Helen Lundeberg, Ed Moses, John McLaughlin, Lee Mullican, Mel Ramos, Ed Ruscha, Betye Saar, June Wayne, and Howard Warshaw. The works on view are on loan from the artists, private collections, galleries, and museums.

The exhibition offers a kaleidoscopic view of this institution’s role in shaping an evolving art capital, underscoring the significant contributions of Los Angeles artists to the mid-century art world, which endure to the present day. “The revelation in working on this show,” says Eyerman, “was the range of work and artists that were presented in the Museum’s Annual Exhibitions. There was an intermingling of generations, and the emergence of young artists who went on to become titans of the L.A. art world. This Museum was the cultural center of Los Angeles before LACMA opened in 1965.”

Artistic Evolution is on view in the Rotunda of NHM’s historic 1913 building, designed by Los Angeles architecture firm Hudson & Munsell. The 1913 building was recently restored and seismically strengthened, revealing exquisite details of the Rotunda’s 58-foot dome and 20-foot skylight designed by Walter Horace Judson. The 1913 Building is today listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles | Artistic Evolution |

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