Phyllis Tuchman, an art critic and a friend, was visiting from New York this week to see the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions. She had a great insight. While the art of PST may be compelling, exciting, even revelatory, credit also must go to the various curators who have done the research, even the detective work, to find pieces from several decades past, borrow them for the shows and write essays for the scholarly catalogues.
This is especially evident in Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980 at UCLA's Hammer Museum through January 8, 2012. Kellie Jones, an art history professor at Columbia University, has brought together a remarkable selection of sculpture, especially assemblage, as well as paintings, drawings or prints that document the lively but barely understood black art scene of L.A. Some of the artists may be well known today, such as Betye Saar or John Outterbridge, but their earliest work is not that familiar. It also wasn't easy to track down. For instance, there is an extraordinary totem, the stylized shape of a head and body covered in tan leather by Noah Purifoy, who operated the art program at Watts Towers. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York had bought it 1971 but hadn't put it on view for years. Daniel LaRue Johnson's Big Red (1964), who attended Chouinard with the artists who showed at Ferus Gallery, is powerful red painting with a yellow border around a central square bearing disturbing lumpen objects covered in thick black paint. A meld of two distinct aesthetics of the 60's – geometric abstract painting and assemblage – it looks like an attempted merger of two distinct worlds.
Mixed media. 66 x 39 x 8 in. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Museum purchase, the William A. Clark Fund and Gift of Dr. Samella Lewis. 1993.3.
Courtesy the Noah Purifoy Foundation
Those two worlds are emphasized in show, which not only features the African American artists who came of age during this time but looks at the ways they tried to get their art presented by opening their own spaces such as the Brockman Gallery, operated by the Davis brothers. The show includes Alonzo Davis's Pan African Direction III, (1963) a map of the African continent made from torn corrugated cardboard painted the colors of the flag and Dale Brockman Davis' Viet Nam War Games (1969) sculptures of large shell casings made of ceramic and metal. These artists and galleries existed in a parallel culture of their own creation since they were not exactly welcomed in the white-dominant art world of that time.
Dale Brockman Davis, Viet Nam Game, 1969
Clay and metal. 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm)
Collection of the artist
There is special resonance in having this show at UCLA where, in 1966, there was a boundary busting exhibition called The Negro in American Art. A number of those same artists are included in the current show and many are now well-known in any context. The show is startling proof of the distance crossed in the past half-century.
Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980 at UCLA's Hammer Museum through January 8, 2012.
Banner Image: David Hammons, Bag Lady in Flight, ca. 1970's (reconstructed 1990); Shopping bags, grease, hair. 42 1/2 x 116 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. Collection Eileen Norton, Los Angeles