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State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970 at the Orange County Museum of Art
Linda Mary Montano: Chicken Dance: The Streets of San Francisco, 1972; performance documentation; courtesy of the artist, Saugerties, New York. Photo: Mitchell Payne.
ORANGE COUNTY, CA.- The Orange County Museum of Art presents the exhibition State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970, opening October 9, 2011. Co-organized by OCMA and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and cocurated by Constance Lewallen and Karen Moss, the exhibition showcases more than 150 works of art—installations, photographs, videos, artists‘ books, and extensive performance documentation—that demonstrate the crucial role of California artists in the development of Conceptual art and other new genres. State of Mind includes newly discovered works from the period as well as rarely seen works from archives.

"In the 1960s, the Newport Harbor Art Museum, predecessor to OCMA, was one of very few venues for contemporary art in Southern California. During its first decade, the museum organized exhibitions presenting groundbreaking works by artists such as Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Allen Ruppersberg, Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Bonnie Sherk, Nancy Buchanan, Chris Burden, and Barbara T. Smith, to name just a few," stated OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs. "We are excited to work again with these pioneers and to revisit this important period of our history, one that is essential to understanding California‘s extraordinary contributions to the art world."

Social Change in California
In the mid 1960s California emerged as an incubator for social change and youth-oriented counterculture. The Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles, the Chicano students‘ protest 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.

Conceptual art was emerging at the same time and in response to similar cultural and social changes in New York, Europe, and Latin America. What made California unique within the United States was its relative scarcity of cultural institutions, social traditions, and markets vis-à-vis other creative centers. 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.

The new art was rarely produced in the studio, even less often in the museum or commercial gallery; it took place in the streets—such as First Supper, performed by artist collective Asco in 1974—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'.

The importance of art departments and art schools in California circa 1970 cannot be underestimated, performing crucial roles as both patron and scene in the 1960s and 1970s. The University of California built three new campuses in Irvine, San Diego, and Santa Cruz, and hired prominent artists to start new art programs, while the state university system created experimental colleges and art departments.

According to Karen Moss, State of Mind co-curator, "The zeitgeist of Conceptualism and other avantgarde practices of the 1960s and 1970s seen in State of Mind still flourishes today, as California artists continue to experiment with and innovate new methodologies, technologies, and sites for their work beyond the 'white cube.' Also, many of the artists included in the exhibition have taught in the art schools, serving as critical mentors for subsequent generations of young artists."

Content and Focus of the Exhibition
State of Mind is organized around ten themes: the Street, the Environment, Politics, Feminism, Domestic Space, Public Space, Perceptual and Psychological Space, the Body and Performance, Art About Art, Artists' Books and Ephemera. The exhibition presents visitors with new juxtapositions between artists from Northern and Southern California, who were sometimes working in similar fashion, while at other times moving in separate and distinctive directions.

With Conceptualism‘s focus on ideas, language, and systems of meaning, the exhibition showcases extensive texts and artworks that were placed in established journals and newspapers, as well as in alternative publications, giving artists the ability to disseminate their ideas. Through rare publications, visitors will gain a deeper understanding of how artists of this period successfully used media to address issues of the day.

With the advent of the Sony Portapack, artists could produce their own, more radical forms of video art. State of Mind includes important video as well as extensive photography, both of which document ground-breaking, one-time performances that happened throughout the State and that bring to life the artistic practices of that era.

Conceptualism‘s examination of space, both public and private, led several artists to explore art installations—a practice ubiquitous today but relatively unexplored prior to this period—several of which will be recreated for State of Mind.

With more than 150 works of art—both iconic works and those that are lesser known—the exhibition includes key examples of Conceptualism and other new genres that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In addition, the museum is organizing a series of performances, talks, and readings by some of the leaders of California Conceptualism.

Conceptual Art and other Avant-garde Practices
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), on view in the exhibition, 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 from 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 city 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. If Sherk was interested in transformation of the urban environment, Montano sought personal transformation through her performances, which bordered on the ecstatic. State of Mind includes several photographs of these performance pieces culled from the artists personal archives, most never seen by the public.

Unlike the public nature of Sherk and Montano‘s performances, Bas Jan Ader 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‘ 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) presented on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The artist-designed rooms included a Breakfast Room, outfitted with restaurant booths, and a rough-hewn wooden cross diagonally spanned the Jesus Room. State of Mind showcases the most comprehensive installation of Al’s Grand Hotel artifacts, photographs, and the original soundtrack from this work of art.

With the dominance of language in Conceptual art and the use of text to document ephemeral practices, the number of artists‘ publications expanded exponentially. These works ranged from artists‘ books and journals to posters and postcards. Some pieces existed to document other ephemeral productions, serving as the only evidence of that action or event; others were produced as the primary art object. These practices were aided by an abundance of small, alternative presses and easily accessible printing facilities in art departments and art schools. Artists also pirated television airwaves and radio broadcasts and, increasingly, with the advent of video, produced their own, more radical forms of media. Rare issues of publications, artists‘ books, and other forms of media intervention highlight for visitors these ground-breaking works 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 selfunderstanding 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 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 at the University of California, Irvine. In his most infamous performance, Shoot, a friend shot Burden in the arm with a .22 rifle on November 19, 1971, at F Space in Orange County.

The rise of the feminist movement played an important role 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.

Perhaps no other female artist put herself more on the line to challenge perceived notions of female passivity and to test the limits of the artist-viewer relationship than LA-based artist Barbara T. Smith.In Feed Me (1973), a performance at the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco, the artist allowed visitors, one by one, to enter a small space—in which she lay nude—and to interact with her as they chose. By leaving herself vulnerable to any interaction, she shifted the responsibility for behavior onto the mostly male participants.

The most enduring legacy of early California Conceptualism has 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. This was the core of the Conceptual revolution

Orange County Museum of Art | State of Mind |


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