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Lenore Tawney, “A Wreath for Lillian,” 1969

My view of how art history is assembled and canonized was changed inexorably after seeing Pacific Standard Time in Los Angeles last fall.* The Getty’s outrageously ambitious and sensationally successful mega-exhibit about Southern California art between 1945-1980 featured 1300 artists at over 200 museums and art galleries.

Many if not most of these 1300 practitioners lived and worked on the West Coast, living under the radar of what was then an extremely New York-centric art world. The fact that they were not included in the canonical history of art during that era was not due to a lack of talent. It was more a lack of proximity, and a lack of likemindedness with the tastemakers and art insiders of the time.

Since PST hit with such force, the rewriting has already begun. As Roberta Smith wrote in the New York 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.”

So now, post PST, I have more of an eye and a nose for unsung artists in that immensity of art, for those who missed out in the “narrowing and ordering of the historicizing process” for whatever reason.

This kind of artistic resuscitation is nothing new. The most famous case of a willed reassessment is probably Lawrence Weschler‘s “Shapinsky’s Karma” (which appears as a chapter in his book, A Wanderer in the Perfect City), the extraordinary account of one man’s campaign in a pre-Internet art world to bring visibility to a talented but unknown contemporary of Pollock and Rothko.

My project is more personal. Highly so. I started writing down the name of artists, many of them deceased, whose work I did not know but spoke to me deeply. As the list kept growing it needed a name. The Noncanonicals seemed to capture their outsider spirt with a slight twist of the defiance that many of them possessed during their lives.

Some of the artists on my list are from the West, but plenty spent their lives in New York as well. A high percentage of them are, not surprisingly, female. What started out as a little sidebar activity has now grown into something much richer than I would have guessed. I have been surprised by the joy of discovery.

Sharing these finds here on Slow Muse makes sense since many of us share a similar sensibility. Some of you will already know the artists I am highlighting even though they are new to me. Please share your stories and insights. In many ways this could and should be a Wikiproject, the art version of a community garden for previously forgotten heirloom plants.

My offering today is two artists I found at the “On Paper” show at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York this weekend: Anne Ryan and Lenore Tawney.

Ryan and Tawney’s small works were on display alongside a Larry Rivers piece. They held their own. The juxtaposition with Rivers, a high visibility art world star, is a poignant reminder of just how many great ones slipped by, under noticed and under appreciated.

Here’s some background on each of them.


Ryan was a poet, journalist, chef and artist. Leaving her marriage in 1923, she ran a restaurant in Greenwich Village to support her children. At the age of 50 she began painting and studied printmaking with Stanley William Hayter at Atelier 17.

When she was 57, her work reached a critical turning point. She saw a show by Kurt Schwitters and the connection was immediate. Collage became her passion. In the six years of life she had left before dying from a stroke, she produced over 400 collages.


Widowed after only two years of marriage, Lenore Tawney studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago with László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Archipenko. Moving to New York, she blended her weaving and textile background with her interest in fine arts. According to Sigrid Wortman Weltge, “Tawney united the disciplines of weaving and sculpture in daring works that helped create the fiber art medium. Whether monumental or the size of a postcard, her art has always communicated at the deepest level with each new generation.”

Unlike Ryan, Tawney lived a long life, passing away when she was 100. She had more of an opportunity to build her career and legacy, with exhibits in major museums and a number of monographs on her work currently available.

*Note: I wrote about PST extensively in November and December of last year here on Slow Muse. A site search will pull up a slew of posts on the exhibits I was lucky enough to see.

More on Pacific Standard Time

PST encompasses over 60 venues, so my coverage from just a week in Los Angeles is limited. Here is an overview of other PST exhibits worth highlighting (as well as a few others thrown in for good measure):

Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980
Hammer Museum

Breaking down the profile of Southern California art even further, the Hammer has assembled work by African-American artists who in many ways were operating in their own unique swirling thermal during those years. Many of the works in this show are visceral, textured and taut, relying on an arte povera aesethetic which predate the current embrace of outsider art. The physicality of assemblage was not a common form back in the 1960s and 70s. So many of these works speak timelessly to a subsequent generation of artists, in LA and otherwise.

David Hammons, Bag Lady in Flight

John Outterbridge, No Time for Jivin’, from the Containment Series

Betye Saar, Black Girl’s Window

Noah Purifoy, Untitled (Assemblage)

John Riddle, Ghetto Merchant

Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987

Yet another glimpse into a subculture within the LA art scene, this show highlights the performance art of a group of Latino artists. Named for the Spanish word for nausea, Asco was primarily “four style-conscious art jesters — three men, one woman — cavorting in outrageous outfits around the streets and empty lots of East L.A., making a scene, actions sprinkled with cutting social commentary, then disappearing. A Dada daydream in Chicanoville, USA” (from LA Weekly.) The sophistication and extent of their oeuvre astounded me.

From Asco documentation, LACMA

Glenn Ligon: AMERICA

This show by Glenn Ligon (which was on view earlier at the Whitney Museum) is so far ranging in scope and mastery—it features a hundred works including paintings, prints, photography, drawings, and sculptural installations and neon reliefs—that it is astounding to me that the work was made by one person. There are moments for everyone, from the exquisite coal dust surfaced paintings to his conceptual installations to his take on Robert Mapplethorpe‘s black men portraits. Political and also a visual feast. Extraordinary.

Close up of the coal dust surface on a Ligon piece

Pre-Columbian art at LACMA
Jose Pardo display design

LA artist Jorge Pardo was asked to design LACMA’s new Pre-Columbian art collection. Stunning. The space has been transformed.

From Christopher Knight‘s review in the LA Times:

Conceptually sophisticated and visually smashing, the installation design that artist Jorge Pardo conceived and executed for the impressive Pre-Columbian collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was unveiled to the public Sunday. Unlike anything you’ve seen in an art museum before, it’s built on a deep understanding of the potential power of smart decoration.

To decorate is not just to embellish but to valorize. LACMA’s often exceptional collection of ancient art deserves nothing less — especially the fine ceramic vessels and sculptures from West Mexico, Central America and Colombia. Pardo’s eccentric, unexpected scheme delivers.

It accomplishes two feats. Obscure works of ancient art are elucidated, and so is our contemporary experience of them. This decorative installation design is a meaningful honorific, not an empty flourish.

Installation views of the Pre-Columbian galleries at LACMA, designed by Jorge Pardo

Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited

Edward Kienholz was a highly visible and influential artist for me during the 60s and 70s, and his installations used effrontery and truth speaking as a powerful tool. This exhibit is one of his most harsh and disturbing. It is on view for the first time in the US after having been purchased by a Japanese collector who warehoused it for over 40 years. The artist’s widow Nancy Kienholz reassembled this brutal reminder of the brutal castrations of the pre-Civil Rights era. Not for everyone but quintessential Kienholz.

June Wayne, founder, at Tamarind in the 1960s, photograph by Helen Miljakovich, courtesy June Wayne

More on the exhilarating Pacific Standard Time art extravaganza in Los Angeles:

The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena has assembled its PST exhibit around the intriguing story of printmaking in Los Angeles—Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California. At the epicenter of the story and the exhibit is June Wayne, artist and founder of the legendary printamaking facility, Tamarind. Wayne is the reason lithography was brought back into the lexicon of art and printmaking in the US, and her influence on the trajectory of printmaking in this country is incalculable. In many ways Proof is a loving homage to June Wayne who died just before the show opened. She was 93.

Wayne was an East Coast transplant and primarily a painter when she became interested in lithography. To do the lithographs she envisioned for an artist book of love sonnets by John Donne, she had to travel to Paris to work with master printer Marcel Durassier. There was no one in the United States with the skill set she needed.

Wayne ended up submitting a proposal for funding from the Ford Foundation to cultivate a new “ecology” for lithography in the U.S. McNeil Lowry, head of the Ford Foundation’s Program in Humanities and the Arts at the time, described June and her proposal:

June Wayne is an unusual person. I have never seen…anybody who presented more exhaustively and graphically what she wanted…The Ford grant was a multi million dollar bet on one person alone.

The Tamarind Lithography Workshop—whose evocative and exotic name was simply the street name in Hollywood where Wayne had studio space— opened in 1960 with Wayne as its director. Tamarind quickly became world famous, and artists from all over came to work with Wayne. The list includes Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Conner, Louise Nevelson, Rufino Tamayo. After ten years of hard work, Wayne believed that her goals had been reached. In 1970 she transferred stewardship of Tamarind to the University of New Mexico where it is still in operation today.

Tamarind was the seedbed for a revolution in U.S. art printmaking. A number of Tamarind-trained printers went on to start their own print ateliers, like Ken Tyler of Gemini Ltd and Gemini G.E.L., and Jean Milant of Cirrus. (A fascinating wall-sized chart at the beginning of the exhibit details the relationships and connections of the printmaking world of Southern California during this era. Too complex to capture in its totality, I’m including a small subset here.)

Southern California’s printmaking genealogy

Additional book resources:
Proof, catalog for the show.
Tamarind Touchstones: Fabulous at Fifty.

A few highlights from the exhibit:

Anchovy, by Ed Ruscha (1969)

Untitled, Richard Diebenkorn (1970)

Great Bird, Nathan Oliveira (1957)

Two Figures, William Brice (1966)

Untitled, John Altoon (1965)

Studies in Desperation: Now the Act Is Consummated, Connor Everts (1963)

The Bride, June Wayne (1951)