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FROM THIS EPISODE

For weeks, I've been talking about Los Angeles art of the 1960's, art made of light and colored plastic, even Pop art, art produced during period of prosperity in Southern California. Then came a great recession, an unpopular war that dragged on and tension with Iran. If those conditions sound familiar, you might want to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and check out the art produced in California from 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned to 1981, when Ronald Reagan left L.A. to become president. Under the Big Black Sun, the title of a 1982 album by LA punk band X, is awash in rage and despair. Many of L.A.'s galleries had closed, there was no museum of contemporary art, and artists here embraced a range of what was then called new media – video, photography, performance – to address aspects of their race, gender or sexual orientation. Even sculpture could have elements of performance such as Richard Jackson's who built a wall of 1000 painted canvases stacked face down one atop another so all you see is the paint leaking out the sides. Big Ideas is the title.

 

 richard_jackson.jpg

Richard Jackson with Big Ideas—1000 Pictures (1980)
at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles, 1980

 

This is a huge kitchen sink of an exhibition but there are a few highlights, such as Chris Burden's The Reason for the Neutron Bomb, thousands of nickels topped with single matchsticks arrayed on the floor to represent the 50,000 tanks that the Soviet Union had aimed at the west. Suzanne Lacy's map of L.A. documenting three weeks of rapes in 1977.

 

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Chris Burden, The Reason for the Neutron Bomb, 1979

 

Llyn Foulkes' Letter to President Ford, an envelope smashed over a bloody face. And Alexis Smith's long installation of collages that use quotes from Raymond Chandler to remind us of the noir-ish history of L.A. To return to the punk rock theme, the show includes the posters for Black Flag by Raymond Pettibon as well as photographs of punk bands at Mabuhay Gardens by Bruce Connor in San Francisco. The inclusion of Northern California artists in a show associated with L.A.'s Pacific Standard Time is questionable. 

 

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Llyn Foulkes, Letter to President Ford, 1975

 

Curator Paul Schimmel has filled the Geffen Contemporary warehouse in Little Tokyo with abundant evidence of the Pluralism that emerged in the 1970's, a shift away from the tidy movements of art history. There are 139 artists so there is plenty to look at and, perhaps more important, plenty to think about.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 runs through February 13, 2012 at MOCA.


Banner image: Chris Burden, detail from The Reason for the Neutron Bomb, 1979

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