May 22, 2013
‘Pacific Standard Time’: L.A. Comes Into Its Own
Posted on Nov 21, 2011
The African-American contributions to the Los Angeles area’s artistic ferment are an especially prominent component of Pacific Standard Time. The UCLA Hammer Museum is featuring “Now Dig This,” a survey of some of the major Los Angeles figures of postwar African-American art, including David Hammons, John Riddle, Bill Pajaud, Betye Saar, Ulysses Jenkins, Noah Purifoy, John Outterbridge, Suzanne Jackson and others. By bringing this vibrant tradition to the Los Angeles West side, more residents from vastly different racial and socio-economic backgrounds will have a serious exposure to outstanding black artworks in this well-curated exhibition. The UCLA Film and Television Archive, located in the Hammer Museum, is simultaneously presenting a PST series of 40 film and video works by Los Angles-based African and African-American filmmakers who met at UCLA and who made powerful contributions to this major visual art form.
In the San Fernando Valley, California State University at Northridge is showing a comprehensive exhibition of African-American photography. Its approximately 125 images reflect the panorama of developments in the arts, politics, religion, and family life in Los Angeles black communities after World War II. Drawn from the archives of the university’s Institute for Arts and Media, this exhibition is an invaluable resource for scholars and laypersons alike.
The most comprehensive show of African-American art, “Places of Validation: Art and Progression,” is at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park, near the center of black Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: I am the co-curator of this exhibition.) Featuring the same artists as those represented at the Hammer, it also has numerous other African-American artists, many of whom have long been neglected in mainstream academic and journalistic criticism. “Places of Validation” also contains scores of documents and photographs about the galleries and other institutions that provided exhibition venues to African-American artists who were excluded from dominant museums and commercial galleries on racial grounds.
Several other PST exhibitions are multicultural, going beyond one particular ethnic or racial group of visual artists. In January 2012, for example, Pomona College artist Sheila Pinkel will reprise her 1981 multicultural photography exhibition featuring works from Asian, Latino, white, and African-American artists. The Getty Center Museum is showing “Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970,” which has many artists from ethnic and racial communities as well as women.
All of this and more constitute the first truly systematic exposition of the breadth of visual expression in postwar Los Angeles. The sheer magnitude of the initiative reflects a vision of the arts that is inclusive and that dramatically and effectively erodes the culture of exclusion that has despoiled conventional art history and criticism in their academic and its journalistic forms for decades. This is truly a rare opportunity to see how female and male artists of color have transformed the artistic landscape of Southern California and the nation.
But race, ethnicity and gender still matter. Even as we properly celebrate the achievements and the vision of Pacific Standard Time, we should guard against the frequently unacknowledged racism and sexism that persist, including in the arts. The postwar movement towards an inclusive artistic vision was merely the beginning of a long and complex journey to social justice in the arts. It needs to continue long after PST fades into the historic record.
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