The history of art in Southern California isn't linear; it is a fluid, multi-angled continuum made from the personal experiences of many artists from myriad backgrounds. So to trace the trajectory of Southern California art, Artbound is creating a collective timeline comprised of the decisive events that shaped artists' creative development. We hope that in the space between these personal histories, an impressionistic view of Southern California's art history will come into focus.
Today we talk to Los Angeles based architect Linda Taalman.
The art and technology program at L.A.C.M.A. (1967-71).
What was this and why was it so important to you?
I wasn't alive when the art and technology program happened at L.A.C.M.A. which was 1967 to '71 but I have a copy of the records of all the discussions and collaborations between the artists who were invited to this really unusual, unprecedented program that L.A.C.M.A. organized just after it had opened. And I have had the opportunity to work with some of those artists later in their career in my own career. The reason this is interesting is because one of the reasons I came to California, and this is true with many architects and artists as well, is Southern California has a wealth of technology driven expertise, that is primarily cited within those industries like the aerospace industries or the automotive industry. This particular collaboration paired people who were really thinking about culture, visual, perceptual space and not necessarily industry, commerce, and put those two things together which had never really been done before.
Is there one particular work or partnership or collaboration from that program that stands out for you?
The one that stands out that was really significant personally, as well as seemed to have a big impact on other people, is the collaboration between Robert Irwin and James Turrell (and the scientists they were paired with) because already some of these artists were experimenting with light and space and this really allowed them to take that one step further. So they collaborated with scientists who were able to do things like sensory deprivation, removing all of the input in an anechoic chamber or stripping things down to the essence of perception and you see the works later on that Irwin was producing particularly with his light based installations and the same thing with Turrell. These are all about manipulating the perception of the viewer by stripping everything else out. And in my own work as an architect that actually is really something that I value very much, which is how much can we take away in order to elevate the senses on another level? Perhaps that's a visual level but that might also be an audio level. Of course within space making and architecture the visual space is usually the dominant one, and in my own work I often see that it's not about adding it's actually about subtracting. So for me that is where I see the value in that unique research that they were doing that had an impact on their work but I also see how that plays out in mine.
The Chris Burden Five Day Locker Piece.
What is it and how did that inform you?
For a long time I've been aware of the work of Chris Burden and looked at all of his work and his particular starting point is really interesting. Most people know him in Los Angeles for his Urban Light Piece outside of L.A.C.M.A. Before that he's really well known for being the artist who shot himself. Chris Burden's early career is really as a performance artist, and he locked himself in a locker for five days with one locker above him and these are two foot by two foot by three foot lockers with a five gallon bottle of water and the locker below him had an empty five gallon bottle. I'm interested in particularly in the way in which art meets space and how the artist confronts space. In this case, it's really the artist as a subject in a space and really pushing the boundaries of what one's spatial experience and survival might be. So you can survive five days inside this very cramped locker space with only water. For me what's interesting about art is the way in which it engages space and his later pieces are also always about how does the art inhabit the space and what is the space of the artist.
You have been looking at these other ideas about space very carefully, right? How is that translated in your work?
As an architect I am more interested in the way in which architecture frames opportunities for either the occupant or the viewer to engage that space or for the space itself to be programed. So the architecture is not a fixed annuity that is purely something to look at. It is something which is interactive, that people have to engage with and someone has to use; so the design of that has to be loose enough that those things which are dynamic, architecture is typically static, can engage with it and that it doesn't fall apart. Usually there is a dialogue between, lets say, the person who is primarily setting up that space and the viewer who comes into that space, which in the case of looking at art plays out very clearly because you have the space and then you have the artist who wants to make use of that space.
Frank Gehry renovating the MOCA Temporary Contemporary (now the Geffen Contemporary) in 1983.
Tell me about the space and why it was so important.
Frank Gehry renovated the Temporary Contemporary, it's now called the Geffen Contemporary in '83 and the space was a former police car garage. It was just a big warehouse like a lot of warehouses downtown. Here is an architectural example, but as an art space, it was not that different from the space that it was originally. It is very minimally renovated. So for me it is interesting in two ways, it's interesting because we all think of Frank Gehry as the Disney Concert Hall, its extremely exuberant, amazing in its own right, but a very formal and expressive kind of architecture. When you go to see the Geffen Contemporary, even now because it was temporary but it has actually been permanent. Up until today it's still open. It is very beautifully, subtly done in the way that it has been transformed. But it's an incredibly stealth kind of architecture. So it allows for a highly flexible use programming and this has enabled countless exhibitions to take place. It simply couldn't have taken place anywhere else. It had very tall ceilings. You could essentially divide it in any way that you need. You could put in Richard Serra's torqued ellipses. You could also build full scale models of buildings, which they did during this Blueprints for Modern Living exhibition and these particular exhibitions have a huge impact on the community at large because they are able to have these much more immersive experiences, but for me the building itself is interesting because of the way in which the role of the architect comes into play as one that is really having to work within existing conditions and tweak it somewhat to enable this kind of opportunity to happen.
We know Frank Gehry for completely the opposite from that building, but it's also a gesture about not tearing down, reusing, claiming a space for another use - almost like Burden.
True, and I think today we could architecturally, spatially really learn from that. We have most cases. Any site you are going to have an existing condition, whether it's a building or something else so you could actually do a lot with those existing spaces. That's number one, but also think about how subtle the role of the architecture might be.
And the big Eli Broad building right next to the Walt Disney Hall, right next to this mega art complex?
I don't know. I think to some degree we're still in an era of building buildings for two reasons. One is to make this exchange possible and the other one is to have a kind of signature building, Bilbao Effect. You could call it different things which becomes a kind of large scale sculptural object that draws attention to itself, has a kind of magnetic power. So I would love to see a Diller Scofidio and Renfro Building in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure if that is the minimal amount of work that needs to successfully exhibit Eli Broad's collection, nor is it the right or best way to exhibit the collection. It has other agendas. So, I think building can be more stealth. That's why I'm drawn to the way in which Frank Gehry was able to make that very strategic intervention.
Blueprints for Modern Living.
Is this important on several different levels?
The Blueprints for Modern Living exhibition that was put together by Elizabeth Smith at MOCA has had a huge impact on the art community, as well as the design community. The Blueprints for Modern Living was looking at the case study housing program that was started in 1945 for Arts and Architecture Magazine, which built and designed prototypes for houses in Southern California and helped to actually facilitate the building of these, including The Eames House, The Stahl House, and numerous other iconic architectural houses in Los Angeles in particular. What's interesting about the reducts kind of relooking at this program twenty years later is how they basically reinvigorate the discussion. Recently we had the discussion of Pacific Standard Time, which in some ways looked over this material again. But the original exhibition Blueprints for Modern Living was the first time that we were actually critically able to look at this work that was done primarily in the design realm by architects and designers like the Eames and really look at them as cultural objects. In the exhibition they actually built several full scale buildings of the designs that had been realized during this program. So what we saw first was how innovative this program was, how large really of an impact it was potentially able to have. We also saw the fact that the reality is Southern California is not filled with these. It was intended to be for the masses. Everyone would live in this incredibly futuristic modern environment. These buildings were supposed to be economical and now they are somewhat fetishized objects. At the time even and in the 90s people were starting to collect Neutras, other architecturally significant houses. But simultaneously people were tearing them down. They were and they were not valued and it was never really played out the way it was intended to be. We should, in a city that's filled with beautiful modern steel and glass, have economically built houses. It was a double edged sword of the future that could have been and the kind of innovative vision that these designers had and the future that didn't happen for many reasons.
So in a way the exhibition was not a call to action, but a way to call attention to that work in a different context, perhaps?
I think bringing it into the context of the museum and putting, for the first time, work that was essentially designed architecture, furniture, that may or may not have been elevated to a kind of art museum status at that point. There's this energy between art and design in particular in Southern California or maybe just California. Seeing those full scale mock ups I think inspired a lot of artists who think about the depiction of space, the representation of space, even the fabrication of spaces. So later down the road, you have artist like Jorge Pardo who are building their own houses in Los Angeles and those are in fact the "house as art" that served a domestic environment. I'm very interested in the fact that Los Angeles, in particular, is a city of houses where you have primarily single family dwellings but a very big population and a very dense city, nonetheless. The art community has to come up with questioning of the domestic as well as the architectural community. I find that I'm doing many house designs within my practice here and the way that you question a domestic environment is unique in Southern California.
High Desert Test Sites.
The High Desert Test Sites is incredibly interesting personally, as well as looking at it historically. I was there when that was happening and I had a very personal connection into seeing how artists were coming out to the desert, building structures, and then letting other people come out and experience them. Going out to California, and a large part for me is coming West, and coming to this landscape of the desert is a key component of that. Essentially we live in a desert.
What did they do at the High Desert Test Sites?
The first High Desert Test Sites were more temporary, performative but the intent that Andrea Zittel had was really to get people to come out there first and foremost, get artists responding to this particular site of the desert which has unique characteristics of extreme climate and temperature, light, all of those things. And then also to get other people to come out and participate in a week long or two day or weekend long event, where you go from one place to another. You get to see the desert in terms of what it is and you get to experience these art installations in that context.
Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass.
Why is Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass important to you?
I think Levitated Mass is going to be one of those things we don't necessarily see this historical relevance of yet but we will in the long term. I mean urbanistically the placement of this giant rock on the campus in Los Angeles, along with the other pieces that have now been installed outdoors, I find very provocative experientially to go to L.A.C.M.A. and walk through that space. I thought it was absolutely brilliant how the actual moving of the rock to the site became another artwork in itself and seeing all those people lined up. People came out tweeting about it, following it down the road, seeing it come down the highway. They had to take down power poles. The physical moving of it was in fact more interesting than the piece itself, perhaps, but it brought together people who would never normally be in the same space at the same time.