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Getty Research Institute presents "Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics, 1950-1980
A woman views "BG Red" by Ken Price (C), "Stage II" by Karl Benjamin (L) and "#8" by John McLaughlin at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics, 1950–1980, on view at the Getty Research Institute from October 1, 2011 – February 5, 2012, surveys the emergence of a community of artists who developed innovative strategies for reaching out to, and even creating, diverse and varied publics.

Drawn from the Getty Research Institute's extensive archives of Los Angeles art, this exhibition features over 200 objects including photographs, ephemera, correspondence, and artwork—many on view for the first time. Part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945–1980, a Getty-led initiative designed to spotlight the dynamic postwar art scene in Southern California, Greetings from L.A. reveals how these artists, by engaging a wide range of different viewers and audiences, rethought ways art could intervene in the public sphere.

“The Getty Research Institute has pioneered research in this area, and has assembled one of the world’s foremost archives related to postwar art in Southern California,” says Thomas Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute. “Pacific Standard Time gives us the opportunity to share this remarkable collection and demonstrate the depth and breadth of our scholarship in this fascinating era. The exhibition also demonstrates the originality of L.A. art as well as its international connections.”

Greetings from L.A. opens with Making the Scene, a survey of the region’s galleries as they developed from the 1950s through the 1970s. It acquaints the visitor with dealers and collectors who congregated on La Cienega Boulevard, such as Rolf Nelson, Riko Mizuno, and Betty Asher, and who contributed to the city’s reputation as a hotbed for modern art. It also introduces less well-known venues active in Pasadena and other parts of the Southland.

Public Disturbances, the exhibition’s second section, presents three important exhibitions that resulted in censure, and even arrest. This includes Wallace Berman’s 1957 Ferus Gallery exhibition, and the police shutdown that followed; the 1961 controversy surrounding the “War Babies” exhibition at Henry Hopkins’ Huysman Gallery; and the showdown between the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors over the inclusion of Back Seat Dodge ’38 at Ed Kienholz’s 1966 museum retrospective.

The next section, Private Assembly, focuses on the unique artwork created by Berman, George Herms, Charles Brittin, and their circle in the fifties and sixties. The intimacy of these pieces resides not only in the distinctive traces of the artist’s hand they bear, but also in their circulation among a select, almost private, audience. Largely operating outside the commercial gallery system, this group of assemblage artists focused their energies on private artworks that were distributed in person or by mail, as tokens of friendship.

By contrast, the fourth section presents artists who took the Mass Media as a model for their own artistic practice. Extending Pop Art’s emphasis on popular culture into conceptual art’s turn away from the traditional artwork, Ed Ruscha, Allen Ruppersberg, and Chris Burden looked to popular culture and mass production for alternative means of production and distribution. They worked with impersonal forms, such as commercially produced pieces sold as consumer goods, or even art that functioned as advertising. Bypassing conventional exhibition space to reach new audiences, these artists adopted an anonymous mode of address, one in which the identity of the artist and the viewer became secondary.

Art School as Audience, the exhibition’s fifth section, illustrates the vital role that art schools played in the development of contemporary art, serving as important havens where, among other lessons, artists learned to be each other’s viewers. CalArts and its predecessor, the Chouinard Art Institute, served as one central artistic community, as can be seen in the work of its students Ed Ruscha and Joe Goode, and its faculty, among them, John Baldessari, Miriam Schapiro, and Judy Chicago. Other important forums were the new departments of art that blossomed across the region’s colleges and universities. The campuses at Irvine and San Diego especially provided supportive audiences for experimentation by artists such as Martha Rosler, Barbara Smith, and Eleanor Antin.

The final section, The Art of Protest, investigates how social and political movements mobilized artists to take their work into the streets. In the 1960s, Los Angeles became the site of the first artist-led protests against the Vietnam War. The resulting Peace Tower (1966), built at the start of what was then the La Cienega gallery row, continues to serve as an inspiration for artistic activism. In the following decade, feminism similarly galvanized many artists to make social interventions through their work, as can be seen in Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Starus-Labowitz’s In Mourning and In Rage (1977), a widely covered protest performance staged on the steps of City Hall.

“Greetings from L.A. offers a new perspective on art in Southern California by considering how, through unsettling conventional relationships between art and its audience, artists working in the region developed alternatives for art’s public role and its place in society,” says the GRI’s John Tain, who curated the exhibition. “The archival materials reveal the novel forms and strategies devised by a range of artists for engaging, but also re-imagining, their publics.”

The exhibition draws on the recently acquired archives of Betty Asher, Hal Glicksman, George Herms, Wolfgang Stoerchle, High Performance magazine, and the Rolf Nelson, Mizuno, and Jan Baum galleries, as well as the papers of Charles Brittin and Edmund Teske. They are supplemented by material from archives not typically associated with Southern California, such as the papers of New York-based art critics Irving Sandler and Barbara Rose and Lawrence Alloway, New Museum founder and curator Marcia Tucker; and the Kasmin Gallery in London.

Greetings from L.A. is currently scheduled to travel to Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau from March 15 through June 10, 2012, together with the Getty Museum’s exhibition, Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970.

Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics, 1950–1980 is curated by John Tain, assistant curator of modern and contemporary collections at the GRI, with the assistance of Linde Brady, GRI research assistant.

Getty Research Institute | Greetings from L.A. | Artists and Publics |

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