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Mark Rothko, at the Philips Gallery

Jonathan Jones, that no nonsense, speak your truth art critic for the Guardian, reported on his visit to the new Tanks interactive art space at the Tate Modern:

Six psychics sit at plain wooden booths as part of Fawcett’s contribution to the new Undercurrent series of live events at The Tanks. Psychics! It sounds on paper like an underground circus with smoke, crystal balls and tarot readings. But although my interviewer assured me she is a trained psychic, what she did was ask me a series of questions about my job and interests, how honest I am, my views on politics, economics and the nature of power. It was a questionnaire that started in the banal and tried to touch on larger themes. Then I was invited to give contact details to continue the “screening process”.

It’s probably a work that gets richer the more you put into it. If you get in the spirit, it might be fun. But why should I?

A certain class of art has moved “the art experience” closer to entertainment. I’m not against the easy pleasing of a confectionary offering—something light and fun can be a worthwhile distraction from the heavier parts of life—but at some point there is a need to advocate for the other end of the spectrum. Contemplative engagement with art rarely garners the same coverage as playfully theatrical events, events that are conceptually driven but often conceptually shallow.

There is room in our world for lots of types of expression. and I don’t think it is excessively curmudgeonly to ask for equal time.

Jones seems to agree:

Art should be a contemplative, personal experience. It should leave us free to engage on our own terms. The idea that interaction is good for us is patronising and treats us as lazy-minded idiots who must be prodded like cattle in order to respond. Somehow, if I sit answering inane questions about politics from a psychic, that is supposed to be more active and real and meaningful than if I sat for an hour looking at a Rothko.

Can I go and see the abstract paintings now, please sir? I’ve done my interactions.

Jones nails a nagging discomfort I have felt repeatedly. A set up like the one Jones describes IS patronizing. And it is that particular form of condescension that frequently turns me off when I visit similar interactive exhibits. Respect me as a viewer, please. The way a great painting respects me.

So yes, I’ll take that hour in front of a Rothko.

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John Cage and collaborator/partner Merce Cunningham

Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson has been my mainstay for the last several weeks. Every page has now been marked and annotated, leafed through many times. This is an unforgettable, inspiring, deeply moving book about a towering and yet famously accessible figure. Larson weaves this story through written words by John Cage himself and the historical evidence of the network of extraordinary people that Cage knew, learned from, influenced and collaborated with. For anyone interested in 20th century culture, art, dance, music, cultural history, Buddhism, Eastern thought or the varieties of spiritual experience, put this on your list.

Larson is an art historian (longtime denizens of Boston may remember her writing for The Real Paper before moving on to Artnews and New York magazine) who changed the trajectory of her life by entering into Zen practice at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1994. From her unique dual perspective of seasoned art observer and practicing Zen Buddhist, Larson is the perfect chronicler of John Cage’s richly lived life and inspirational work.

Larson describes her undertaking of this project :

This book has been a fifteen-year journey into the world of John Cage, who was teacher to so many, and who taught me, too. As real Zen teachers do, he modeled a way of life for me. This kind of teaching doesn’t need physical proximity. It is best displayed within the life of the person who teaches. What choices did he make? Why did he make them? What questions did he ask? Cage modeled a life that lives on in the daily moments of those who knew, loved, and were taught by him.

There are so many ways to slice into this complex, multi-layered biography, and perhaps over the next few weeks I will write a few more posts that explore some of the many themes that weave their way through this book. But for now I start with Larson’s account of Cage’s existential dilemma while he was still a relatively young artist. In his words:

So what is beautiful? So what’s art? So why do we write music? All these questions began to be of great importance to me, to such a great importance that I decided not to continue unless I could find suitable answers…

I had been taught in the schools that art was a question of communication. I observed that all of the composers were writing differently. If art was communication, we were using different languages.

The answer came through an Indian friend, Gita Sarabhai. Steeped in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Gita answered Cage’s question with this: The function of art is to “sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences.”

From Cage’s journal:

I was tremendously struck by this. And then something really extraordinary happened. Lou Harrison, who had been doing research in early English music, came across a statement by the seventeenth-century English composer Thomas Mace expressing the same idea in almost exactly the same words. I decided then and there that this was the proper purpose of music. In time, I also came to see that all art before the Renaissance, both Oriental and Western, had shared this same basis, that Oriental art had continued to do so right along, and that the Renaissance idea of self expressive art was therefore heretical.

Cage becomes particularly compelled by Indian aesthetic theory and an art that measured itself by its reflection of the immeasurable. And to that end Cage wrote:

I felt that an artist had an ethical responsibility to society to keep alive to the contemporary spiritual needs. I felt that if he did this, admittedly vague as it is a thing to do, his work would automatically carry with it a usefulness to others.

And this deeply moving quote from Cage on the last page of the book:

We were artisans; now we’re the observers of miracles. All you have to do is go straight on, leaving the path at any moment, and to the right or to the left, coming back or never, coming in, of course, out of the rain.

Cage’s evolution as an artist, particularly his merging of wisdom traditions with creativity, is a personal and inspiring narrative. But in addition to a biography of Cage, this book is also a profound contemplation of the spiritual dimensions that can characterize an artist’s life. Larson delivers on the title of her book by all counts.


The Dutch Wives, by Jasper Johns (on view at Harvard’s Sackler Museum)

Sebastian Smee. How did Boston get so lucky? Having him at the Globe has made all the difference for me. No wonder my friends down under are still bemoaning his loss (Smee wrote for The Australian in Sydney before relocating here.)

His recent review of the small show at Harvard on Jasper Johns has a few passages that capture the quixotic nature of Johns’ work with an insightful ring of truth that I had to share them here. I have had a long and complicated relationship with Johns’s work, but Smee artfully circles up those diverse feelings into a view that feels balanced and accurate. He hits it directly, even in his intro paragraph:

Jasper Johns is an artist one finds difficult to love, and then, on reflection — and often against a backdrop of crisis or doubt — comes to love wholeheartedly, soberly, sincerely. He is an artist for grown-ups. He might seem reticent, puzzling, at times willfully tangled up in himself. But if you are struggling to make sense of art, life, or any conceivable combination thereof, he is not the bafflingly forked path he can seem, but rather a guide, one who won’t take your hand but will instead send you back out on your own, your sense of the mystery renewed and expanded.

And it just keeps coming. Referring to Johns’s work as “difficult to write about—so tender to the touch,” this passage is also memorable:

One of the reasons Johns’s work is so difficult to write about — so tender to the touch — is that it is stuffed with allusions and clues that amount to a kind of secret order or logic, and thence to what might be thought of as “meaning.” And yet, frustratingly, it goes out of its way to obscure meaning.

That’s because Johns is not interested in clear meanings. Clear meanings are for children and lawyers. He is interested instead in life, and is rightly contemptuous of critics and academics who try to act as village explainers of his work.

When, in a 1965 interview, the critic David Sylvester followed up on an answer to an earlier question by asking, “Do you know why?” Johns said, “No, but I can make up a reason.” It was not a cantankerous joke, I think, but an honest answer, full of gentle forbearance.

Smee goes on to quote Johns from the same David Sylvester interview: “The final suggestion, the final gesture, the final statement [in a work of art] has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement.” Johns is just as interested, Smee points out, in the “inevitable collapse of meaning, and what is left in its wake — the “helpless statement.” This is a graceful way to engage with those hard won concepts like humility, vulnerability, and getting to the essence that does stand up, all the way through to the end.


Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (7-107, LA III), 1998, oil on linen on panel, 22×28” (Photo: BOMB Magazine)

Thomas Nozkowski is an artist I follow and have been interested in for some time. But I began diggging deeper into his work and his point of view after reading the review of his show at Senior & Shopmaker Gallery by his long time friend John Yau, A Truly Subversive Artist Is Not Necessarily Someone Who Is Theatrical or Gimmicky. (That title alone is worth further exploration.)

And now I am even more beguiled and fascinated. One of my best finds was an interview in BOMB Magazine between Nozkowski and the writer Francine Prose. These two intelligent, thoughtful artists share a conversation about art and art making that is refreshingly authentic, generous and “art world pretension”-free. Nozkowski is articulate about things that are often glossed over or flattened down to the usual clichés. His words have depth, amplitude, and the evidence of having thought through these issues for a long period of time.

As Prose states in her introduction, she was eager to interview Tom Nozkowski so that she might finally begin to understand what makes his paintings “so beautiful, mysterious, surprising and unique, so simultaneously and paradoxically whimsical and haunting.” The process of speaking with him only intensified and deepened the mystery of his work for her, the finest compliment IMHO. (I also admire Prose for saying this to Nozkowski about art reportage: “I read all those articles and essays that critics have written about you, and I have to tell you I didn’t understand a single word. It made me realize that the reason I started writing art criticism was because I couldn’t understand it.”)

One of the first topics they discuss is about Nozkowski’s long passion for the painting by Pisanello, Legend of St. Eustache. He remembered first seeing the painting in London many years ago and being deeply moved by it:

TN: I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but it was as if I knew why every stroke was made. Every color, every shape. I thought it profoundly moving…I was trying to find out why those elements work.

FP: So did you figure it out?

TN: No, not in specifics. I mean, if you could figure it out, it would lose a lot of its magic. You’d possess it too closely. What I did come to understand was the possibility of working out of a feeling rather than a formal direction. There are a few very modest structural reasons for any of the forms and colors in that particular painting being where they are. They seem inevitable for another reason…

There are paintings that speak directly and privately to you. And it has to do with who you are. As a painter, I’m interested in painterly solutions, things that painters do… I think painters go to museums with different agendas and goals. You go to find solutions for your own problems and your own aspirations.


Pisanello’s Legend of St. Eustache

In another exchange about the more general experience of making art:

FP: Do you have any sense of what would be the ideal response to one of your paintings?

TN: If someone was able to look at a painting of mine for a period of time, to go with it and spin out some kind of logical—for lack of a better word—story from it, I don’t expect much more than that. The central fact of our lives, of any artist’s life, are the thousands upon thousands of hours we spend alone staring at these damn things, thinking about them. We sit there, and these things just go on, and on, and on. Everything in the world ties into them, everything that’s crossed your mind while you’re working on it. And, if somebody could just get a sense of that fullness in a work of art, it’s working, you’re on the right track. Ultimately, the one thing that a work of art is about, is the fact that a human being did it. That’s what’s extraordinary, and what’s wonderful.

FP: But Tom, you can look at really crappy art and think: A human being did that, too.

TN: Art objects are gifts. Sometimes you get a lousy gift, and sometimes you get a great gift. The more complex and the more interesting the art is, the more it gives you.

More to come on this.


Bruce Conner

The archetype of The Fool has been written about at length. The permutations are many, but the most common variance for most of us is from Shakespeare’s plays. Fools are never what they seem. And they are certainly not “fools.”

Art history has its fools as well, even (and especially) in recent years. One of my favorites who played with that archetype is Bruce Conner, another artist from my list of Noncanonicals (more about that here.)

Conner was a West Coast artist—my proclivities lean that way as many of you know—and someone I remember from my earlier years growing up in California. A new and excellent biography by Kevin Hatch, Looking for Bruce Conner, offers an evenhanded and highly readable account of Connor’s career.

Conner’s art is so wide ranging, crossing over into every medium and point of view. Categorizing him has been nearly impossible. Some of his works are so powerful for me personally that I do plan to write a few future blog posts more specifically about his oeuvre.

Hatch’s account includes several of Conner’s hilariously dissembling antics. Besides his amazing visual art making, Conner was way clever, persnickity and very smart. It was probably that combination of qualities that contributed to his reputation for being both irascible and endearing. But the adventures of his life make for great stories.

Here is a sampling: Conner decides to run for office in San Francisco back in 1967 as a prank. A friend and poet James Broughton (and one time husband to Pauline Kael) wrote a poem for the occasion called, “Tomfool for President: A Campaign Song for Bruce Conner.”

Tomfool, come tickle us
with authentic tomfoolery
Our motes have got too many beams in their eyes.
Turn topsy these turtles
on their lopsided noodles.
Clean sweep the whole country with indecent surprise!

From Hatch’s book:

Tom Fool, of course, was a mythical figure, and Conner’s persona gained its own mythic proportions over the years…the fool’s two traditional guises, court jester and festival clown, have a common ancestor in the individual under possession, “inspired with a higher wisdom.”

The idea of ancient, sacred wisdom is much to the point. There is a profoundly atavistic quality in Conner’s work that extends fro his assemblages and collages to his prints and drawings…This atavistic tendency partakes of the mysterious: the work consistently points inward, toward an unreachable center, even as it opens out toward the public sphere (achieving the latter most often via the outmoded goods of postwar American’s recent but forgotten past.) Broughton’s phrase “indecent surprise” aptly captures the spirit of the work. Profane and sacred, humorous and tragic, private and universal—all these antinomies are pushed to the breaking point, with results that often astonish.

Ah the wisdom of the fool, the wisdom of knowing where to poke. More on Conner will be forthcoming.


Mark Rothko’s Light Red Over Black © 1998 Kate Rothko

Whitechapel Gallery has played a memorable role in the London visual arts scene since its founding in 1901. It was one of the first publicly-funded galleries and host to Picasso‘s Guernica in 1938 (as part of an exhibit organized by artist Roland Penrose in protest to the Spanish Civil War) and Rothko‘s first show in England in 1961.

A small exhibit at the Whitechapel honors that breakthrough show by Rothko. And to put that show in context, Charles Darwent describes the state of abstraction in England at that time in his review of the show:

Rothko was about to have his first English show, downstairs in the Whitechapel proper; it was organised by the revolutionary curator, Bryan Robertson. Rothko’s work would hit London like a shell. The late painter John Hoyland recalled the show. “We didn’t understand it … how to analyse it,” he said, in an interview days before his death in July. To the English, “abstraction” had meant the not-quite chalk downs of Paul Nash, the stylised boats of Ben Nicholson. Here, though, was something different. Rothko’s show was “engulfing, an awesome vision”: Hoyland “staggered around it”, drunk on the American’s sensuousness.

All this is the subject, 50 years on, of a small but fascinating exhibition at the Whitechapel. There is only one Rothko in the show – the Tate’s Light Red Over Black – and that was not in the 1961 exhibition. This in itself is poignant. It took the Tate until 1959 to acquire its first Rothko: the gallery’s director, Sir John Rothenstein, hated abstract art. The other great art knight, Sir Kenneth Clark, backed Rothenstein’s views. Under their reign, British art remained a backwater, abstraction confined to a small group of oddballs working in a far-off place called St Ives. And then there was Rothko at the Whitechapel.

The photographer Sandra Lousada was just out of her teens in 1961. Her father, a patron of the Tate, told her to go and shoot the show. The results, hung next to Light Red Over Black, evoke a time in English art now scarcely imaginable. Like John Hoyland, visitors to the Whitechapel seem stunned by the images in front of them – uncanny, soft-edged beauties like nothing they have seen before. Other photographs show Rothko on his quasi-mythical visit to Cornwall in the summer of 1959: one has him sitting in a garden, drinking tea. All the other men – Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost – are wearing trawlerman’s jumpers; Rothko is in a suit and tie. He looks like a fish out of water, which is how some critics saw him.

Under the headline, “Clarity begins at home”, the reviewer of Time and Tide found Rothko’s pictures “spiritually enervating”. “Like the beauty of some women,” he said, “their beauty is quite meaningless.”

Happily, most local writers got Rothko as quickly as local painters did. Alan Bowness, future director of the Tate, found the American “immediately sympathetic to the English taste”, and the feeling was mutual. Also on show are letters from Rothko to various English correspondents. In one, he professes himself so moved by Shakespeare and Dickens that he felt “they must really have been Russian Jews who emigrated to New York”. Who’d have thought? Don’t miss this exhibition.

While this small exhibit only includes one Rothko painting (borrowed from the Tate collection), the correspondence and photographs documenting that event held me in the gallery for a long time. Rothko’s hand typed, faded letters are firm, demanding, clear. The transaction that resulted in the Tate acquiring the Seagram paintings originally created for a restaurant space in New York was conducted just months before Rothko’s suicide. Reading the exchange was poignant and sobering.

Here’s a flavor of Rothko’s level of involvement in how his work should be seen, hung and experienced. The following transcription utterly fascinated me.

SUGGESTIONS FROM MR. MARK ROTHKO REGARDING INSTALLATION OF HIS PAINTINGS

Wall color:
Walls should be made considerably off-white with umber and warmed by a little red. If the walls are too white, they are always fighting against the pictures which turn greenish because of the predominance of red in the pictures.

Lighting:
The light, whether natural or artificial, should not be too strong; the pictures have their own inner light and if there is too much light, the color in the picture is washed out and a distortion of their look occurs. The ideal situation would be to hang them in a normally lit room—that is the way they were painted. They should not be over-lit or romanticized by spots; this results in a distortion of their meaning. They should either be lighted from a great distance or indirectly by casting lights at the ceiling or the floor. Above all, the entire picture should be evenly lighted and not strongly.

Hanging height from the floor:
The larger pictures should all be hung as close to the floor as possible, ideally not more than six inches above it. In the case of the small pictures, they should be somewhat raised but not “skied” (never hung towards the ceiling). Again this is the way the pictures were painted. If this is not observed, the proportions of the rectangles became distorted and the picture changes.

The exception to this are the pictures which are enumerated below which were painted as murals actually to be hung at a great height. These are:

1. Sketch for Mural, No. 1, 1958
2. 2. Mural Sections 2,3,4,5, and 7, 1958-9
3. White and Black on Wine, 1958

The murals were painted at a height of 4’6” above the floor. If it is not possible to raise them to that extent, any raising above three feet would contribute to their advantage and original effect.


Julius Shulman’s iconic archictectural photographs capture California’s new sense of architecture, space and lifestyle.

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Returning to my coverage of the Pacific Standard Time art exhibit/extravaganza in Los Angeles:

LACMA’s sprawling multi-building expanse is a stop I make every time I am in LA. Their flagship PST show, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”, fills the new Resnick Pavilion with artifacts from an extraordinary era—architecture, furniture, ceramics, fashion and textiles, industrial and graphic design and accoutrements of a new style of living.

The scope of the show is broad and the ramifications over time of these designers are very clear in hindsight. California represented something quite different from the cultural epicenter on the east coast. In David Weinstein‘s review of a smaller and less ambitious show, Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury at Philips Andover’s Addison Gallery in 2008, some of that essence is described:

‘Cool’ meant art that, unlike the earth-shaking solos of bebop or the splatters of paint that seemed to burst from Jackson Pollock’s very soul, was rational and restrained, but deeply emotional nonetheless. In “the ethos of cool,” the show’s curator Elizabeth Armstrong says, can be found “a cerebral mix of seeming detachment and effortlessness.”

That streamlined detachment and effortlessness is what I remember from my California childhood in the 1950s. Everything was cool, not heated and overworked. Engaged and yet not. When I moved from California to New York City in the early 1970s, it was like landing in a place with a completely different set of cultural coordinates—intense, cerebral, serious, driven, etched into, worn through. At that time that was just what I needed.

Meanwhile California followed its own trajectory, and that legacy is so evident in this show. Hovering over all of these artifacts is the presence of Ray and Charles Eames, the husband and wife team whose designs became icons in the American mid-century landscape. One of the highlights of the LACMA show is the recreation of the living space from the Eames’ 1949 Pacific Palisades house. Named a National Historic Landmark in 2006, the house is currently in the process of being restored.

A few highlights from the show:


Installation view


Installation view


The Eames House Living Room, Charles and Ray Eames. © 2011 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com). Courtesy Antonia Mulas


Glen Lukens, Bowl. Photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA


Gertrud Natzler; Otto Natzler, Bowl. Photograph © 2010 Museum Associates/LACMA


Margit Fellegi for Cole of California. Photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA


Dan Johnson, desk. Photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Additional note to readers close to Boston: The last viewing of the film, Eames: The Architect and Painter, is showing at the MFA this coming Wednesday at 3pm.


Ray and Charles Eames at the Aspen Design Conference. © 2011 Eames Office, LLC


Untitled, by Douglas Wheeler, 1969. Acrylic on canvas with neon tubing

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More on Pacific Standard Time, currently on view in Los Angeles:

The Southern California artists who congregated together into a loosely defined group called Light and Space in the late 1960s have gone on to be some of my favorites. The list is an extraordinary one that includes Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Bruce Nauman, James Turrell, Doug Wheeler, Dewain Valentine and, less well known but a friend of mine, Susan Kaiser Vogel.

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego features many of these artists in their PST show, Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface. From the Phenomenal site:

Whether by directing the flow of natural light, embedding artificial light within objects or architecture, or by playing with light through the use of transparent, translucent or reflective materials, these artists each made the visitor’s experience of light and other sensory phenomena under specific conditions the focus of their work. Key examples of this approach include immersive environments by Bruce Nauman and Eric Orr, each of which produce different and extreme retinal responses; the disorienting and otherworldly glow of a Doug Wheeler light environment; a richly hued and spatially perplexing light piece from James Turrell’s Wedgework series, and the subtle sculpting of space with natural light by Robert Irwin.

In addition to artworks which literally claim the entire space of the room, Phenomenal also features a number of sculptures and paintings that function as prisms or mirrors to activate the space surrounding them. The properties of glass are explored in Larry Bell’s coated glass cubes and in monochromatic paintings by Mary Corse which are embedded with tiny glass microbeads.

Particularly hard to photograph, these works are extraordinary—deliciously ethereal, timeless, provocative. And for anyone interested in reading more about this movement, I recommend the show catalog as well as the book The Art of Light and Space by Jan Butterfield and Jim McHugh.


Stuck Red and Stuck Blue, by James Turrell, 1970. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego


Untitled, by Craig Kauffman, 1968. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Note: Another piece by Craig Kaufman concomitantly on view at the Getty’s Crosscurrents exhibit can be seen here.


Untitled (Space + Electric Light), by Mary Corse, 1968. Plexiglass, neon, high frequency energy. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Note: Another piece by Mary Corse concomitantly on view at the Getty’s Crosscurrents exhibit can be seen here.


#54 July/August 2nd Level Density, by Ron Cooper, 1968. Polyester resin, Fiberglas, and pigment. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego


Ocean Park No. 67, 1973, Richard Diebenkorn. The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection courtesy of The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn


Ocean Park No. 26, 1970, Richard Diebenkorn. Nerman Family Collection courtesy of The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Pacific Standard Time, the sprawling art exposition that includes encampments at 60 different venues in the Los Angeles area, has already shifted the narrative for signifiers like California, art, post war, innovation.

The experience as it turns out is even more overwhelming and implication-rich than I imagined. (My pre-visit post is here.) And even though I spent my early life on the West Coast and am very familiar with the work of many of these California artists, the visual impact still has me feeling a bit too dizzied to offer a linear account. As Roberta Smith wrote in the Times, “’Pacific Standard Time’ has been touted as rewriting history. It seems equally plausible to say that it simply explodes it, revealing the immensity of art before the narrowing and ordering of the historicizing process.”

The image that comes to mind is an immense tarp laid out in the desert, an expanse of flatness that seemed inert. Then one day a helium truck showed up. Who knew? The immense and colorful hot air balloon, air borne and levitating over Los Angeles right now, is more spectacular than anyone imagined.

With my sensibility villi all still aflutter from a week of overstimulation I’ll just launch in and share a few highlights. A good beginning is the Getty (the organization that conceived and underwrote this whole thing) and the Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970 show. Just a few words but mostly images.

And no better place to start than the two paintings by Richard Diebenkorn included in the show and pictured above. Very different from each other but both utterly exquisite. My partner Dave sat in front of these and said, “These two are worth the trip.”

And here are some other memorables:

This Mary Corse painting so subtle and reflective it is nearly impossible to capture it in a photograph.


Untitled (White Light Grid Series-V), 1969, Mary Corse. Glass microspheres in acrylic on canvas. Andrea Nasher Collection. Permission courtesy Ace Gallery and the artist

Ah. Bruce Conner. Finally this artist and his multifarious gifts are on display all over town (as well as at the Rose Museum in Boston). This early piece is a particular gem.


Black Dahlia, 1960, Bruce Conner. Offset photograph, feather, nails, paper collage, tobacco, rubber hose, fabric, sequins, string, and mixed media. Courtesy of the Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ed Moses. In his 80s now with a legacy that is legion. This early collage is compelling as is a piece on resin.


Dalton’s Waffle #1, 1960, Ed Moses. Crushed newspaper, shellac, and wood. Collection of Jim Newman & Jane Ivory. Image courtesy of Ed Moses


Hegemann Wedge, 1971, Ed Moses. Powdered pigment, acrylic, and resin on canvas. Collection of Phyllis & John Kleinberg. Image courtesy of and Ed Moses

Ronald Davis and his gorgeous mastery of olored polyester resins and fiberglass. (Note: There is another stunning Davis painting on view at the Norton Simon museum.)


Vector, 1968, Ronald Davis. Molded polyester resin and fiberglass. Tate: Purchased 1968. Image courtesy of the Tate

John Altoon (who died way too young, in 1969), was doing his own Ocean Park series before Diebenkorn made the Venice neighborhood world famous.


Ocean Park Series, 1962, John Altoon. Oil on canvas. Permission courtesy of the Estate of John Altoon and Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Gene Ogami

Craig Kauffman mastered industrial plastics and his ethereal works seem to float in space.


Untitled, 1969, Craig Kauffman. Acrylic lacquer on plastic. Courtesy the Estate of Craig Kauffman and the Frank Lloyd Gallery.

Often referenced for his teaching at UCLA, Lee Mullican had an interest in spiritual dimensions and was influenced by Native American traditions, Surrealism, Zen Buddhism and jazz.


Untitled (Venice), 1967, Lee Mullican. Oil on canvas. Estate of Lee Mullican, Courtesy of Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles.

Sam Francis mastered the edges in this piece. (Another exquisitely understated and tonal Francis is hanging in MOCA Los Angeles.)


Untitled (Mako Series), 1967, Sam Francis. Oil on canvas. Collection of The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

OK. I’ll stop there for now. More, more, more to come.


The view from the Getty with Robert Irwin’s gardens in the setting sun


Buster, by Billy Al Bengston (Courtesy of the artist)

When I was coming of age as an artist in California in the late 60s and early 70s, the culture of contemporary art was centered unquestionably in New York City. Art Forum, Art in America et al gave small and occasional nods to what was happening in Chicago, Santa Fe or the West Coast. But most of us who were studying art somewhere other than Manhattan took our cues from the art epicenter on the East Coast.

Meanwhile all around us, West Coast artists were churning out work that spoke to other sensibilities and other traditions. We were in proximity to great artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Irwin, Billy Al Bengston, Ed Moses, Nathan Olivera, Wayne Thiebaud, Miriam Shapiro, Ray Saunders.

The first major exhibit I have seen that highlighted that uniquely California visual legacy was The Third Mind at the Guggenheim in 2009. That exhibition explored how Asian art, literature, and philosophy influenced American visual art and culture, and many of the artists included were from the West Coast. It described a rich period in our history that was more inclusive and multifaceted than the standard telling has let on.

Little did I know at the time that the Getty had a much more ambitious plan to recast the story of art in post-WWII America. Pacific Standard Time emerged from a Getty Research Institute initiative focused on art in Los Angeles and California. “Through archival acquisitions, oral history interviews, public programming, exhibitions, and publications, the Research Institute is responding to the need to locate, collect, document, and preserve the art historical record of this vibrant period.”

‘Bout time. And Roberta Smith of the New York Times agrees:

“Pacific Standard Time” has been touted as rewriting history. It seems equally plausible to say that it simply explodes it, revealing the immensity of art before the narrowing and ordering of the historicizing process. Taken together, its shows may be the next best thing to being there the first time around, or maybe even better: they surely reveal more than any single individual living through these times could have seen or known about.

To a great extent this epic of exhibitions reflect our moment’s broader historical attitude, which might be characterized as No Artist Left Behind. Anyone who made art at a given moment is eligible to be part of the history of that moment. It’s expansive and inclusive and also reminds of me of Lewis Carroll’s imaginary full-scale map, which was meant to be as large as the area it charted.

“Pacific Standard Time” is a great argument for museums concentrating first and foremost on local history, for a kind of cosmopolitan regionalism, if you will. It sets an example that other curators in other cities should follow, beginning in my mind with Chicago and San Francisco. If America has more than one art capital, it probably has more than two.

I am headed to Los Angeles for a week and hope to see as much of this sprawling set of shows as possible. And celebrating Thanksgiving with my daughter and her new family makes the adventure a perfect blend of favorite things.

I am back to Slow Muse after November 30.