From Surface to Air to Marcel Duchamp

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After seeing the many exhibitions about LA artists and the Sixties that have evolved since 2011 and the Getty's PST, you'd think the air would be getting thin. Robert Dean, however, has come up with some fresh material and compiled a snazzy new exhibition at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Surface to Air: Los Angeles Artists of the '60s.

Billy Al Bengston, "Busby," 1963
Oil, polymer and lacquer on masonite
Photo by Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Courtesy of Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

All the usual suspects are here but represented by exquisite and in some cases unfamiliar pieces. Take the smaller gallery: A doll-sized Larry Bell cube on a hip-high plexiglass pedestal, a John McCracken cube in lavender, both placed in front of a Ron Davis triptych, a three-part 1969 composition that reads as three dimensional despite being entirely flat, covered in expressionist splatters of color. Big wow. Why has no one given this man a retrospective? That is my thought whenever I see his early work.

And facing this piece is a cruciform study by Judy Chicago composed of interlocking squares of fading pastel colors. The whole impact of this selection is so great you might look past the ever-perfect standing plexiglass column of Robert Irwin or wedge by Peter Alexander.

Ed Roth, "Obitron," 1960-64
Photo by Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Courtesy of Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

In the larger gallery, a more controversial point is expressed. Despite the attempts of art historians, including myself, to distance this art from its connection to surfboards and hot rods, the cliché remains hard to budge. Hence, Dean has included Big Daddy Roth's aqua custom car with zippy white pin-striping. There is also a Hobie surfboard in the show, but it is the car that has the most floor space and impact.

Craig Kauffman, "Untitled," 1966
Acrylic on vacuum formed colored plastic
Photo by Brian Forrest
Courtesy of Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

I had never seen such pin-striping in close proximity to the similar techniques used by Billy Al Bengston on his painting Busby or the beyond beautiful scarlet wall relief, with pale striping, by Craig Kauffman. Since I have previously emphasized the great intellectual distance that stood between Kauffman and anything to do with hot rods — he was motivated by more high-brow influences like Lázló Moholy- Nagy and architect John Lautner — it was still startling and, let's face it, fun to see that crazy car. It isn't that the artists always shared the philosophical or intellectual views of car culture enthusiasts but that they were able to use those modern technologies — airbrushing, pin-striping, molded plastic — to create their own new forms of art.

Artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a nude woman
Pasadena Art Museum, October 1963
©1963 Julian Wasser All Rights Reserved

Perfect timing for the exhibition of black and white photographs by Julian Wasser at Craig Krull Gallery. Wasser, a photographer for Time magazine in the '60s, was in the right place for the right shot time and again. Wasser is famed for his notorious picture of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a nude woman, the author Eve Babitz. Here is a chance to see the rest of the story. Krull has published Duchamp in Pasadena, a limited edition portfolio of photographs that include the famous one along with others that are unknown. The effect is thrilling, not unlike the forbidden thrill that Duchamp intended in much of his own work. In these photographs, Babitz is shown naked as well as clothed. Walter Hopps, the curator of the 1963 Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum, is playing chess with the artist before a gathering of visitors. Duchamp is seated erect by an upended urinal, which he scandalously had presented as a fountain at the 1913 Armory show. A real time capsule and a revelation. Both shows, on view to July 5, are not to be missed. For more information go to or

Banner image: Ron Davis' Three Panel (block series), 1969; Polyester resin and fiberglass. Photo/Courtesy of Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles