Three Pacific Standard Time Exhibits at LACMA

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  Hunter Drohojowska-Philp on three exhibits currently on view at LACMA as part of Pacific Standard Time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of Pacific Standard Time and have decided that, for me, it represents L.A.’s missing history. Especially, its art history. Scholars at the Getty Research Institute, in the course of their research, realized how little of this city’s incredibly rich art scene had been documented or archived over the years. Pacific Standard Time, or PST as it is called, essentially provided the funding for people and institutions to do research and make their findings available in the form of exhibitions and catalogues. It may sound a little dull but believe me, the results are not.  
Asco at LACMA
Asco, Instant Mural, (detail) 1974, courtesy Harry Gamboa, © Asco
An exhibition with a fantastic title, Elite of the Obscure, tracks ASCO, translating loosely as “nausea,” the name taken by a lively group of Chicano artists working in L.A. from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. Gronk, Patssi Valdez, Willie Herron III and Harry Gamboa Jr. are the original members and they used the fact of their marginalization from the larger culture to create a parallel culture of their own. Since Chicanos were excluded largely from mainstream cinema, they created what they called “No Movies,” complete with film stills, press kits, and even a No Movie award, a large gold snake. Wearing elaborate costumes and make-up, they had themselves photographed and used the stills to present this convincing if wholly artificial world as film stars.  They invented their own celebrity in a city that privileges celebrity, sort of hijacking it for their own purposes.

They also took on clichés about Chicano art, specifically murals.  In 1974, they taped Valdez and a friend to a wall and photographed the scene as she broke away from the bonds. They called this an Instant Mural.  

Since they did a number of performances and happenings that were photographed, the exhibition itself is heavy on documentation and the enormous catalog presents them as the first Chicano conceptual artists. There is much discussion of their political relevance during a turbulent time so I think it is important to emphasize that their work is also irreverent, funny and moving.

Kienholz at LACMA

Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited, Photography by Tom Vinetz. © Kienholz

Moving, but not funny, is Five Car Stud by Ed Kienholz. Even knowing that I was walking into the scene of a five white guys holding down a black man with the intent of castration, I was shocked. And the LACMA guards, who are mostly black, looked pretty stunned, as well. It was created here from 1969 to 1972, when Kienholz’s political sensibilities were at a peak but never shown here. It appeared at documenta 5 in 1972, was bought by a Japanese collector and has been in storage ever since. Bringing it to LACMA is a real coup brought about by the impetus of PST.

Nordman at LACMA

Maria Nordman, Filmroom: Smoke, 1967–Present. Photo: Courtesy of the Fundação de Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto, Portugal
After that shock, I was happy to calm down with the serenely lovely film by Maria Nordman, Film Room:Smoke made in 1967. This is a welcome summer breeze of an installation, a time machine carrying us back to 1960s Malibu where an attractive long haired couple, professional actors, sit on an overstuffed white armchair on the beach, chatting and smoking cigarettes while the tide slowly comes in around them. The black and white silent film is projected on either side of a white wall. The right hand side is static, filmed with a camera on a tripod; the left hand side is active as Nordman held the camera. A plump white chair covered in plastic, similar to the one on the beach, is sitting in the installation and at the end of the short film, the smoke, the surf and the chair all fade to white, not black. Nordman was finishing her installation when I was there and she explained that it was the last project she did as a student at UCLA where she studied with Josef Von Sternberg and the cinematographer of Jean Luc Goddard. (Around that time, she also worked for architect Richard Neutra.) The wall dividing the film’s static and active components was the first wall that she had ever built. “I didn’t know that my life would be changed by it,” she said. 


In sum, these works were created in L.A. by L.A.-based artists at important moments in their careers – and they could have been relegated to the bin of missing history if not for the opportunities provided by PST.  

Banner image from Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987, at LACMA