(1) John Baldessari, "Studio", color lithograph and screenprint, 30 1/4 x 38 1/2", 1988. From "Made in L.A.: The Prints of Cirrus Editions" at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
(2) Marcel Broodthaers, "Un Jardin d'Hiver," installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
(3) Guilio Paolini, "Apoteosi d'Omero", installation, dimensions variable, 1970-71. Photo courtesy the collection of Annick and Anton Herbert, Ghent, Belgium. From the exhibition "1965-1975: Reconsidering the Object of Art" at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Two very recent arrivals serve up art history that might well edify folks that weren't around the art scene a couple of decades back, and even fill memory gaps for many who were! Besides that, they offer some stimulating reading and, especially in the case of the first, some rather exceptional quality in reproductions.
Made In L.A.: The Prints Of Cirrus Editions, published by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is the catalogue raisonné of Cirrus Archive Editions, documenting the show currently on view. This is a most handsome volume, sheathed in a jacket of former L.A. artist Vija Celmins' Sky (1975), with its cirrus cloud overlay. Beautifully executed, its reflects Cirrus' standards in the printed page as well as reproduction, and it offers biographical essays on some 60 artists, residing both in and out of the local area. Looking back over a full 25 years, it is a worthy tribute to Cirrus' pioneering founder and director, Jean Milant, who is recognized for his welcome of experiment in both process and material--no matter how unorthodox or untried Cirrus found a way--and for his support of artists from the newly emerged to major names. It also acknowledges the printers who were the artists' collaborators.
Curator Bruce Davis's essay, moreover, is more than a history of Cirrus Editions. It serves up a history of L.A. art over the full quarter century, if abridged, from Light and Space, Finish Fetish and Pop, through Conceptual Art to the neos of the 80s, and, in fact, right up to the multifarious present. Remarkable as it might be, Cirrus' achievement alone might well document this community's growth as an art center.
The Museum of Contemporary Art's Reconsidering the Object of Art 1965-1975 is not focused on Los Angeles, although it does cite some of the local figures who played a role in the Conceptual movement. In surveying the decade of its rise, it covers the global scene to survey such phenomena as Robert Smithson's Earthworks, Gordon Matta-Clark's house-projects, Daniel Buren's stripes, Gilbert and George's performances, and André Cadere's bars (wooden poles, not what you lean elbows on). Conceptualism's use of text, perhaps its most wide-spread representation, if only for its ease for travel and immedicacy of communication, is represented by a long list, including Victor Burgin, Hannah Darboven, On Kawara, Joseph Kosuth, Art and Language and others.
Lucy Lippard's essay in Reconsidering reads like a breathlessly delivered personal memoir, but it just might boost some viewers' grasp of what conceptual art is all about, as well as detailing its evolution. In addition, Jeff Wall examines the place of photography for extending conceptual art's domain, while Susan 0. Jenkins, in the introduction to her chronology of group exhibitions, applauds the role of Lippard, Seth Siegelaub and others. With illustrations in black and white, it includes biographical essays on the artists by co-curators Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer.
Both of the above are pretty hefty tomes, but they can't compete with the weighty Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, documenting the show organized by Washington's National Gallery and New York's Guggenheim that showed up at MOCA earlier this year. Fear not, though, there are lots more pictures than words here, and full-page plates like A sock and fifteen cents (Studies for Store Subjects) (1962), or Clarinet Bridge (1992), speak eloquently to convey what Curator Germano Celant calls bodily thingness in his close-up retrospective view of the artist's career. Reproductions like these attest to how formidable Oldenburg's objects really are in their multiple references and implications, sexual and otherwise.
Much of the writing is by Oldenburg himself, and reproduced as executed; printed by hand (big) or typed (small), and tends to be confessional, the artist admitting, for example, having "combined my unworldly fantasy in a shock wedding to banal aspects of everyday existence" (1966). Along with Celant's, Claes Oldenburg and the Feeling of Things, the book includes essays by Mark Rosenthal and Dieter Koepplin.
Celant's quote of Oldenberg's "finding ourselves in things and things in ourselves" is fitting too, for French artist Annette Messager, whose exhibition, organized jointly by MOMA and LACMA, was mounted here over the summer. Her combining of found objects, stuffed animals for example, with things made by her own hand, ranging from prints, drawings and such, to "woman's work," like knit, embroidered and sewn objects, as well as writing on the wall by her hand, attest to the unorthodoxy of her stance whether as artist or feminist, discussed and illuminated among the many complexities in her work by MOMA curatar Cheryl Conckelton. LACMA's Carol Eliel views the work in relation to sources and influences, with biographical information.
Messager's installations often engage body parts, leading to the subject of the body itself, and a lead-in to Intra-venus, the final work of Hannah Wilke. The play on words suggested by the title, standing out starkly in red letters on the cover of the slim, black-wrapped catalogue, hints at the nature of the photographic work executed before the artist's death from lympoma in 1993. Here, accompanying the exhibition at Santa Monica Museum of Art, art historian Amelia Jones defends Wilke's earlier use of her body as art, derided by critics as "narcissistic and exploitational," suggesting in her response that it was to "interrogate and explore profound issues of the embodied female body as both artistic subject and object." She also effectively contends that Wilke's "objectifying" her body during her illness was a brilliant riposte to her critics.
Another catalogue that examines the place of the body in contemporary art is Vital Signs from the Municipal Art Gallery, in which Margaret Lazzari and Noel Korten surveyed depictions as they range broadly: some beautiful, some not, some healthy, some ill, offered by a number of artists in the exhibition it documents. But the catalogue for Uta Barth's show at MOCA makes a departure. This one shows how magically Barth's camera transforms the space of walls into a magical light.
Getting back to history, Pacific Dreams: Surrealism and Fantasy in California Art, 1934-1957, from UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum, presents some that has been long neglected. The show brought attention to names like Rose Mandel, Dorr Bothwell, Will Connell, Gerrie von Pribosic and John Gutmann, among others somewhat better known, such as the still active Lee Mullican and Edmund Teske, who contributed to the L.A.'s first truly avant garde movement. Susan Ehrlich's deeply researched and insightful essay examines the period in Northern and Southern California, noting the activity in Los Angeles during the 1930s, when a lively community focused on avant-garde art, especially the collection of the Walter Arensbergs; continuing in the 1940s while Man Ray was resident, along with the ongoing connection between art and the motion picture world. Additional essays by Terence Pitts on Surrealist photography and Lucy Fischer on experimental cinema are accompanied by biographical essays on each of the artists (including mine on Claire Falkenstein), with illustrations in both black & white and color.
Very briefly: Jim Shaw's Dreams (1995, Los Angeles, Smart Art Press) is highly imaginative in both words and pictures, something to pick up to stimulate some fantasies of your own. If you can find a copy of Mac McCloud's poems (privately printed) prepare to receive a big lift! Finally, Molly Barnes' How to Get Hung (Boston: 1994, Journey Editions) has been around a while, and by now may have helped out a good many newly emerged artists, but please, label your slides from the top!