Pacific Standard Time: First Light

Time Enough
Time Enough

Pacific Standard Time (PST) officially launched over the weekend, although several museum shows and a number of art galleries since mid-September have had early components on display.

On Friday and Saturday, with the help of friends-with-wheels, I got to see some.

Closest to me is the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach (about which I've written before). MOLAA's contribution to PST is MEX/LA: Mexican Modernism(s) in Los Angeles 1930-1985. The show's best parts are the earliest, when the passage of ideas and art movements across the border was in many ways easier than it is now. Muralists dominate this part of the show, with their assertions of identity, history, and political force. The Chicano/a movement gives the art in the show's second part a rougher edge.

The Santa Monica Museum of Art at Bergamot Station is showing Beatrice Wood: Career Woman - Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects, a collection of Wood's jaunty sketches of life among the Paris Dadaists and selections from her large body of work as potter, the art she chose in middle age and which she continued into her 90s. The pottery Wood produced in Ojai is generally lumpy and rude in form but glazed over with the glowing metallic finishes that became her trademark style. I like the juxtaposition on crude and gleaming, but it's not to everyone's taste.

In the late 1970s, I visited Wood's studio/home two or three times, where her lusterware jars and chalices were on display (priced astonishingly high). Wood would be in attendance, always wrapped in a sari and sitting on a divan, her white/gray hair parted in the middle and pulled back, affable but a little distant from gawkers like me.

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The Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station has two shows that compliment PST: Julius Shulman: 80 Years of Photography and Don Bachardy: Portraits of L.A. Artists. Shulman's architectural photographs are perhaps the most iconic from the period that PST surveys, although the Krull show also includes early photographs that have the character of a Shulman family album.

Dominating the second room is an enormous print of the Stahl house (Architect: Pierre Koenig). It's the picture of sophisticated, 1960s L.A. that everyone knows - the nighttime grid of city streets stretching away at a slight angle below the glowing glass box of Case Study House #22 and inside Ann Lightbody and Cynthia Murfee in crisp petticoats and dresses chatting. Blown up to billboard size, the print clearly shows that the photograph was a double exposure: seven minutes for the street grid, then an array of flash units to light the interior.

The Bachardy drawings and portraits show a fine hand, and some of the images are arresting (particularly a young Ed Ruscha in 1970). I only wish the gallery had made an effort to identify the artists and provide some context connecting them to the theme of PST.

The least compelling of these shows was displayed in the corridor that surrounds the courtyard of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo illustrates Chicano/a street life in East Los Angeles and Wilmington in the early 1970s. As journalism, Castillo's photographs help tell the story of an expanding and more assertive Latino community, but as images, they don't penetrate much beyond the surface.

Pacific Standard Time continues into January. The program's website, while pretty, has some frustrating (for me) quirks. But it's still the best place for setting up an encounter with art in Los Angeles when it was at the start of something great.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page is from public domain sources.

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