Assessing the Values of 'Pacific Standard Time'

New Standard
New Standard | Image: Courtesy The Getty

Years in development and lasting longer than its official run, Pacific Standard Time's gargantuan survey of mid-20th century art and design generated tens of millions of dollars in unanticipated spending. From hotel rooms to exhibition catalogs, visitors -- about 84 percent from Southern California itself -- spent (according to a Los Angeles Times report) $111.5 million to attend events at the 60-plus museums and galleries that joined in the Getty-sponsored program.

About 1.8 million persons attended at least one of the events held under the Pacific Standard Time banner. Nearly half of them came specifically because of PST.

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The total "value" of PST, based on indirect benefits, could be as high as $280 million, according to a study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Cities and counties directly benefited from almost $20 million in sales and hotel taxes.

PST was a lot of fun, too.

Adding up the dollars and the bodies is contemporary America's measures of some kind of success. We're all corporate, now. But PST generated other values as well.

Most obviously, Southern Californians encountered their cultural past is ways they might never have. Diverse and dismissive of artificial boundaries, PST had the loose and hybrid character of the years PST surveyed. For some visitors, the encounter will have widened what they thought was art -- not just landscapes with eucalyptus trees or Warhol-ian pop, but planks of glowing acrylic or, in some cases, a wash of light on a gallery wall.

For the most part, PST encouraged a broad view of what art and design were in Southern California between the end of World War II and 1980 -- an essential "staking out of the territory" (literally and imaginatively) from which the art being created today can be judged.

This enlargement included many of the sites where that art was first shown. PST expanded the geography of art in Southern California, at least for some of us, to include college and municipal galleries that often get only local attention.

It will be one of the lasting effects of PST if art patrons continue to wander to Long Beach and Pomona and Santa Barbara and San Diego to see what's going on.

And PST's most important legacy could be the linkages that these museums and galleries made through the Getty. We're such a dispersed people, who would benefit from cultural institutions routinely working together.

The Getty has already lined up a gathering of post-PST architecture exhibitions that will begin in mid-2013. Three museums in San Diego are working collaboratively on an exhibition that gathers up works from their permanent collections to be displayed in new combinations in all three locations. In a few years, the Getty may even take another slice from art and design in Southern California and orchestrate another encounter with our vision of ourselves.

PST focused on what it was like to be here, engaged in art making (including messing around with new technologies), when Southern California shrugged off its genteel art tradition. We were trying on the new then, and the cut was not always the best, but we were optimistic (mostly) that the new would reveal something of importance about ourselves, if only we had the desire to investigate it.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

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