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State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970 opens at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Linda Mary Montano: Chicken Dance: The Streets of San Francisco, 1972; performance documentation; courtesy of the artist, Saugerties, New York. Photo: Mitchell Payne.

BERKELEY, CA.- The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970, the first major survey of California Conceptualism and related practices in their seminal period, 1967 to 1974. The exhibition is part of the Getty Foundation’s collaborative initiative, Pacific Standard Time, and the only one that will travel to Northern California. Co-organized by BAM/PFA and the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), and co-curated by BAM/PFA Adjunct Curator Constance Lewallen and OCMA Adjunct Curator Karen Moss, the exhibition features more than 150 works of art—installations, photographs, videos, artists’ books, and extensive performance documentation—that demonstrate the critical role of California artists in the development of Conceptual art and other new genres. These works—many of which have rarely been seen or are newly discovered—are organized by themes, such as the street, the body, politics, private/public space, and language/wordplay, that elucidate this dynamic era in our history and foreshadow the concerns of young artists working today.

“Conceptual art has been a core area for BAM/PFA’s exhibition program and collections for forty years,” notes BAM/PFA Director Lawrence Rinder. “In the late 1960s and early 1970s the museum commissioned and hosted new works by many of the artists featured in State of Mind, including Adam II (the late Paul Cotton), Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Tom Marioni, Linda Mary Montano, Bruce Nauman, and others. We are honored to present work by these artists again to bring attention to this critical, but underappreciated, moment in the history of art.“

The story of California Conceptualism begins in the mid 1960s, when the state emerged as an incubator for social change and youth-oriented counterculture. Events such as the Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles, the Chicano students’ protests? against racism and inequality in the public schools, and the despair over the Vietnam War, had a major impact on the artists in this exhibition, who held the fervent belief that they were helping to forge a new, more open society. And with several recently opened art schools, California represented the future and freedom for experimentation of all kinds; the old order was under attack, revolution was in the air, and traditional forms of art seemed remote and wholly inadequate to the concerns of the moment. New art was rarely produced in the studio, even less often in the museum or commercial gallery; it took place in the streets, artist-run galleries, and other venues not usually associated with art. No longer satisfied with the museum’s role as mausoleum for static art, artists performed live events or produced interactive installations as a means to critique the institution.

In the charged social climate of the time, urban space offered a new opportunity for artistic investigation. Ed Ruscha was a precursor to artists who elevated the mundane environment to a subject for art. His accordion-folded book Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) immortalized West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip as it looked in 1966. Paul McCarthy was new to Los Angeles when he made his slide projection piece May 1, 1971 (1971). Whereas Ruscha photographed every building he passed with a 35mm camera mounted on the back of his pickup truck, McCarthy shot his twenty-five photographs from a stationary location—only the continuous stream of cars changes from one scene to the next. This is the first time this key early work will be shown in California.

To other young Conceptualists, the street was less a subject than a site for performance. For some, it provided the opportunity to reach a wide audience—a special appeal for groups who had generally been excluded from established exhibition venues even as they were entering the art world in greater numbers. In San Francisco in the early 1970s, Bonnie Sherk created the Sitting Still series (1970), in which she sat for approximately one hour in various urban locations as a means to subtly change the environment simply by becoming an unexpected part of it. In 1972, Linda Mary Montano also performed around the city, dancing spontaneously in famous locations in San Francisco; she wore a blue prom dress and a chicken hat and pulled a cassette player on a cart. State of Mind includes several photographs of these performance pieces culled from the artists’ personal archives, most never seen by the public.

Bas Jan Ader, meanwhile, engaged in solitary performances that became known later only through photographs. Ader’s In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in Los Angeles (1973) records in photographs his dusk-to-dawn walk from the Hollywood Hills to the Pacific Ocean. Each of the eighteen photographs of his journey contains a handwritten lyric from The Coasters’s 1957 rhythm-and-blues ballad “Searchin’.”

Some projects mixed private with public space. On weekends between May 7 and June 12, 1971, visitors could rent one of seven rooms in Allen Ruppersberg’s Al’s Grand Hotel (1971) on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The artist-designed rooms included a Breakfast Room, outfitted with restaurant booths, and the Jesus room, diagonally bisected by a rough-hewn wooden cross. State of Mind showcases the most comprehensive documentation of Al’s Grand Hotel, including artifacts, photographs, and the original soundtrack from this work of art.

The use of the body as a material is one of the defining characteristics of California Conceptual art. Throughout the state, artists used the body as both subject and object of their artwork for a variety of reasons; to test the body’s limits; to explore its sculptural potential; to act as a means of self-understanding and transformation. These practices were often documented through the newly available use of video, several examples of which are on display throughout State of Mind. Southern California artist Chris Burden, for instance, explored the body through performance—flirting with danger to experience what most wish to avoid—in a series of iconic performances he began while still a graduate student. For his most infamous performance, Shoot, a friend shot Burden in the arm with a .22 rifle—the artist’s response to the killing of student protestors at Kent State.

The rise of the feminist movement played an important role in the art of this period, as many women came into the art world in the early 1970s with the need to forge an identity in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. Artists working within this movement often incorporated their bodies in performances, actions, and sculptural works in order to call attention to how the body is culturally marked with differences such as gender. In Representational Painting (1971), Eleanor Antin treats the camera like a dressing-table mirror before which she transforms herself through the careful application of makeup, commenting on traditional painting and how women choose to represent themselves to the world.

By showcasing the work of these artists and others with installations, photographs, film and videos, artists’ books and other publications, and performance documentation, State of Mind reveals the most enduring legacy of early California Conceptualism to have been its breadth, which impressed upon succeeding generations a broader understanding of what art could be. Virtually all of the hallmarks of contemporary art practice—collectivity, emphasis on the ephemeral, body-oriented performance, participation, art as life, political commentary, and art as social interaction—were pioneered in California during Conceptualism’s formative era, an era in which the very definition of art, the role of the artist, and that of its academic and institutional structures were challenged.

List of Artists
Bas Jan Ader, Terry Allen, Eleanor Antin, Ant Farm, Asco, Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Gary Beydler, George Bolling, Nancy Buchanan, Chris Burden, Vija Celmins, Adam II (the late Paul Cotton), Robert Cumming, Peter d’Agostino, Lowell Darling, Guy De Cointet, Morgan Fisher, Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Charles Gaines, David Hammons, Helen Mayer Harrison, Newton Harrison, Joe Hawley, Mel Henderson, Lynn Hershman, Michael Hinton, Douglas Huebler, Richard Jackson, Stephen Kaltenbach, Allan Kaprow, Robert Kinmont, John Knight, Paul Kos, Suzanne Lacy, Stephen Laub, William Leavitt, Fred Lonidier, Mike Mandel, Tom Marioni, Paul McCarthy, James Melchert, Susan Mogul, Linda Mary Montano, Bruce Nauman, Martha Rosler, Allen Ruppersberg, Ed Ruscha, Sam’s Café, Darryl Sapien, Ilene Segalove, Allan Sekula, Bonnie Sherk, Alexis Smith, Barbara T. Smith, Larry Sultan, T. R. Uthco, Ger van Elk, William Wegman, John Woodall, and Alfred Young

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