Made in California - Art, Image and Identity 1900-2000

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Artists have been putting established images into new contexts to provocative effect ever since , when Duchamp moved a snow shovel straight from the hurly-burly of a hardware store into the rarefied air of an art gallery. Through the shift in context, he changed a functional manufactured object into a sculpture whose new use was contemplation.


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Like a ripple arriving at the shore from a stone long ago thrown into a pond, it represents the depressing large-scale arrival into the art museum of an ineluctable shift in university education over the last 30 years. Increasingly, universities have replaced the traditional study of art history with cultural studies. An interdisciplinary field whose focus tends to be sociological rather than artistic, cultural studies examines neglected aspects of contemporary life, including popular culture.

Cultural studies are important, but for an art museum exhibition those studies form the background research before the show gets done. And why not? For five years LACMA has been the largest American art museum headed not by an art historian but by a former university administrator, with no knowledge of the discipline. What should we expect? Closed Wednesday. There is some wonderful stuff in this show, especially for the years between and , the decades of the great California breakout, when Hollywood generated a new kind of romance that seemed to turn the Edenic on its head.

'Made in California': Inconclusive and Proud of It - Los Angeles Times

In evoking glamour, sophistication, opulence, and sensuality, the movies were selling what appeared to be a different image. Yet the new was hardly disconnected from the old.

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It was the warmth and sunshine, the space and newness, that allowed you to remake yourself, that produced the beautiful bodies and the opportunity for the new life and the styles--in clothes, cars, furniture, and architectural forms, all amply represented in this show--that came with it. But where can you go--artistically, culturally, politically--from here?

For anyone who believes that many of our cultural waves first break in California and then roll east, the most disturbing part of this show--and the least satisfying--is the last.

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It's called "Many Californias," covers the years since , and is almost unrelievedly dreary. The title's reference is obvious: Although non-Hispanic whites will continue for another generation to be California's largest minority, the Golden State no longer has any ethnic majority--a demographic fact that foreshadows similar patterns in other parts of the country. As a consequence of its changing population, says Howard N. Fox, LACMA's curator of contemporary art, in a catalog essay, "multiple views of the state began to emerge.

The multiple views, of course, had been there from the beginning.

Yet oddly enough, the LACMA show ends by reducing these diverse perspectives to a narrow spectrum whose paradigmatic images are the cover of Mike Davis's apocalyptic book Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, Catherine Opie's self-portrait photograph of her mutilated back, and a set of photos of various Babel towers of Los Angeles billboards. The subtext of this drama of images is that over the course of little more than a century, California has indeed sunk from Edenic purity to urban disaster--from unified, if oversimplified, celebration of unspoiled nature to visual and perhaps social chaos, thereby ironically reinforcing the power of the whites-only Arcadian image of a century ago.

Despite Los Angeles's promotion of itself as a multicultural metropolis, Fox says, the city is no melting pot. Rather, "Los Angeles is regularly balkanized and rebalkanized into a myriad of shifting enclaves based on race, nationality and ethnic identity. Maybe yes, but, given the rising rate of intermarriage and acculturation, maybe no.

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In any case, the last section of this huge exhibition leaves you longing for the happy solidity of the first part--or indeed for any examples of passable art that strives for something beyond grungy commentary on yesterday's news. Where are the state's emerging artists? Where are Gerald Tsuruda's gorgeous photos of the Central Valley rice fields?

Where are Nathan Oliveira or Christopher Brown?


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Barron, who was educated at Barnard College and Columbia University, has served on numerous panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In she was awarded the Order of Merit, First Class, by the government of Germany for her achievements in the area of German Expressionist art and culture. Ilene Susan Fort received a B. She also co-authored a catalogue of LACMA's collection of American art holdings, which includes a large number of California paintings and sculptures.


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  • Potter, was reprinted as a paperback by University of California Press Her other recent publications include contributions to the new Dictionary of Art , and essays an American Symbolist sculpture and female iconography in Orientalist art. Sheri Bernstein received a B. Bernstein is also Associate Curator at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation in Holmby Hills, California, where she is working on a catalogue of the collection.

    For Made in California, she worked with each of the curatorial departments involved to develop and distill the themes and structure of the exhibition. This exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue and an anthology. In conjunction with Made in California, LACMA will mount a kaleidoscope of related activities and events including ongoing film and music programs, live performances, readings, family days, and lecture series.

    Beyond L.A. / Made in California / Brea Art Gallery

    Several cultural institutions throughout Los Angeles will be presenting exhibitions, performances, and programs that relate to "Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, The exhibition was made possible by a major grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation, founded in , which is a private family foundation dedicated to enhancing the quality of people's lives.

    Barron, Stephanie 1950–

    Mark Taper Foundation. For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists , a national registry of historic artists. Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements. Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

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