Helen Lundeberg, “Blue Planet“
Through February 5, 2012 at J. Paul Getty Museum, West Los Angeles
by Liz Goldner
To combine breakthrough 1950’s era hard-edge paintings with ingeniously constructed ceramics is a bold curatorial statement. Yet this very juxtaposition in the first gallery of “Crosscurrents” works well, setting the stage for a provocative exhibition of 79 works by 45 artists. (This show forms the core of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, providing an expansive, historical overview of the two mediums.)
Helen Lundeberg, “Blue Planet,“ 1965, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60”. © Feitelson Arts Foundation, courtesy Louis Stern Fine Arts.
Entering “Crosscurrents” you are confronted by John Mason’s “Blue Wall,” an 8-foot high by 21-foot wide ceramic sculpture, created in 1959, shortly after the artist abandoned the potter’s wheel. He chose instead to slam large amounts of clay onto the floor, firing its pieces separately and assembling them together. The resulting blue sculpture stretched the boundaries of ceramics with its undulating, abstract configuration, fitting together like a loose jigsaw puzzle that was shaped as much by chance as intention. Equally inventive is Henry Takemoto’s “(Untitled)” obliquely shaped stoneware ball, upon which blue calligraphic brushwork is rendered, creating a design echoing the work’s unusual shape, while evoking surrealism. Ken Price’s ten inch high, red with green and black “BG Red” of fired clay with acrylic and lacquer sport bright colors and sharp lines that serve as foils to the nearby hard-edge paintings.
Karl Benjamin’s geometric “Stage II,” combining vertical abstract shapes with bright earth toned colors, is created intuitively according to the artist, in spite of its seemingly ordered design. Helen Lundeberg’s “Blue Planet,” a more ethereal version of the hard edge aesthetic, has curvilinear shapes and a variety of blues that are drawn from the Southern California landscape.
The assemblage and collage gallery is a feast of lyrical, expressive works, comprised of cast-off materials, influenced by folk and vernacular traditions, as well as by poetry, mysticism, jazz and the cold-war political climate. “The Librarian,” by George Herms, is composed of a wooden box, numerous pieces of scattered papers and books and a loving cup, all presented on a painted stool. The work conveys a scholar’s (or obsessive collector’s) inability to part with papers, resulting in what is chaos to others, but order to the owner. Edward Kienholz’ “The Future as Afterthought” of broken rubber doll parts, tied together on a pedestal, suggests overpopulation and psychological confinement. Betye Saar’s “The Phrenologist’s Window” and “View from the Palmist’s Window,” combining printmaking skills with assemblage, are powerful statements about mysticism and African American women’s experience.
Edward Ruscha, “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas,” 1963, oil on canvas, 64 1/2 x 121 3/4”.
The “L.A. Look,” reflecting 1960’s Los Angeles, embraces this city as a burgeoning art center and place of scenic beauty. British transplant David Hockney’s paintings exalt and embellish the mythos of L.A.’s idyllic modern settings. In “A Bigger Splash” a luminous blue swimming pool with a broad splash of striated white beneath a cloudless blue sky surround a modernist one-story glass-fronted home. Kienholz’ humorous “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps,” made of telephone parts, candy, dental molds, metal, pencil and leather, portrays 1950’s L.A. gallery owner and curator Hopps as a well-dressed street hustler. A pair of Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” paintings, combining abstraction with representation, each with an indoor/outdoor setting, affirm the place of this signature series. Another now iconic work is Ed Ruscha’s “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas.”
Among these classic works perhaps the most central place belongs to the “Finish Fetish” section. Placed on pedestals, hung on the walls and carefully lit in the manner of traditional museums to show off their luminous beauty, their presence here is breathtaking. Peter Alexander’s “Cloud Box” is a cast polyester cube with fluffy clouds floating within, imparting an ethereal look. Frederick Eversley’s “Untitled” is a circular see-through piece of three-layer cast polyester that changes colors and shape as you move around it. Ronald Davis’ “Vector” and “Black Tear,” a pair of 11-foot wide, 12-sided wall sculptures (called “dodecagon” pieces) of poured colored polyester resin, are dynamic abstract images that appear to recede and project into the viewer’s space. Together with DeWain Valentine’s flawlessly polished “Red Concave Circle,” this installation conveys the time, effort and extensive technical knowhow needed to create them – with the visual results rendering the processes far into the background. The intention of these works, as explained by Helen Pashgian in the accompanying catalog, “… is to be able to interact with the piece … to see into it, to see through it …,” and not as the catalog quotes from one skeptical New York critic, to be, “… fancy baubles for the rich…”
Along with many other creative luminaries in this exhibition, these artists inspired and influenced each other, inadvertently creating an expansive movement of divergent styles that cross-fertilized each other, and then built into the cohesive, enduring legacy that this exhibition serves to define.
David Hockney, “A Bigger Splash,” 1967, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 96”.