Saturday, September 20, 2014


I drove out yesterday with the artist Gary Lloyd to California State University Northridge to see their current exhibition, "Valley Vista: Art in the San Fernando Valley ca. 1970-1990."  I wrote a "preview" about Chomsky's Vessel, the Gary Lloyd piece selected for the show, and wanted to see the rest of it. I knew that I'd find many old friends there.

This proved to be true, and there was certainly a nostalgic element to my delight in "Valley Vista."  The Valley was its own hotbed of creative activity back in the day when Los Angeles was still on the cusp of recognition as an important center for contemporary art.  In fact, it was Lloyd's 1971 solo show at Orlando Gallery in the Valley that first inspired me to start writing about art.  "Valley Vista" is a great documentation of that activity, reminding us that the art world can be unkindly selective in those it chooses to celebrate instantaneously and soon forget; and those who manage to maintain, some even enhance their reputation.

There are fine paintings in the show: Bruce Everett's huge, magnificent photo-realist "Sand Canyon," Fidel Daneli's portrait of fellow artist Peter Lodato, Karla Klarin's impressive 3-D construction painting, "Valley View"...

Karla Klarin, Valley View, 1984
acrylic on 3-D construction, 30" x 60"
(All images reprinted with permission of CSUN Art Galleries)
... Judy Baca's sketches for her monumental murals.  (Danieli, as those who were around at the time will remember, was also an influential teacher and a widely published art critic, whose death at an early age was a significant loss to the art community.  He was one of the chief movers and shakers in the San Fernando Valley, along with his wife, Edie Ellis-Brown, whose "Fluorescent Egg Sculpture" is also included in this show.)  On the more traditional side, there are also two paintings by Hans Burkhardt, an inspired charcoal drawing by Steve Galloway with its multiple historical echoes, and an impressive cast resin sculpture by Bob Bassler--a work that surely rivals those of his better-known contemporaries.  Celebrity is a fickle friend.

Despite the inclusion of these--and indeed many other accomplished, more conventional works--the majority of the artworks in "Valley Vista" are cheerfully subversive, reminding us of the pervasive influence of conceptualism at the time.  The assemblages of Esteban Bojorquez, the photographs of Robert E. Von Sternberg, John Divola...

John Divola, San Fernando Valley (I hate you), 1971
Gelatin silver photograph, 14" x 18"
... Mike Mandel and Ed Sievers, among others, and the display cases of posters, flyers and magazines all take us back to the day when ideas, and often words, became an important part of the artist's language, as well as of the continuing dialogue between them.    In one of the "LAICA Journals" put out by the Los Angeles Institute of contemporary art, I spotted an example of my own early art writing, the review of a performance by the Kipper Kids, reminding me that conceptually-based performance, video, and other post-studio media were also beginning to flourish in the early 1970s.

Subversion--whether political, social or aesthetic--is the keynote of "Valley Vista."  While serious in intent, we can be grateful that much of it is light-hearted and light-handed.  I walked around with a big grin on my face, a frequent chuckle, and an occasional burst of laughter.  Consider, for example, Mike Mandel's prescient "selfies"--four decades before the iPhone came along--posing his skinny, long-haired hippie self in front of a long line of cops in riot gear at an anti-Vietnam war protest...

Mike Mandel, Myself: Timed Exposure (CSUN War Protest, 1971)
Gelatin silver print, 8" x 10"
... or between a young African American woman and two elderly white suburbanites on a park bench; in "Impersonations"--deadpan "homages" to his own art heroes--Scott Grieger's photographs replace the iconic Robert Irwin disc with his head, a John McCracken plank with his body...

Scott Grieger, Impersonations: John McCracken, 1971/2000
Photo on canvas, 23.75" x 35.5"
A large number of works in "Valley Vista" share this kind of fake, ingenuous simplicity and modesty of means, qualities I happen to value greatly in a work of art.  Benjamin Weissman's "Others' Tombstones" juxtaposes whimsical, anthropomorphic gravestone figures with typewritten qualifiers: "BACKS TURNED," "COULD BE ME."   Jeffrey Vallance pokes fun at suburban values (and eating habits!) in the photographs and assemblages put together as a tribute to Oscar Mayer Wiener...

Jeffery Vallance, b & w photo included as an element in the mixed media work,
Oscar Mayer Wiener Mascot Meetings with Drawing, 1974
A delight in the absurd is the characteristic many of the assemblage works.   Michael C. McMillen's "Mystery Mummy," enshrined in its museum display case, is a part of his Mystery Museum spoof on our cultural institutions.  Stuart Rapeport's "The Right Tool for the Job" is a fine example of the artist's sharp, if offhand humor.  Encased in a smart aluminum attaché case, his modified paint brushes (the forked brush, for example, is the right tool for the indecisive moment) offer a gentle mockery of the pretensions of the art world.

Stuart Rapeport, The Right Tool for the Job, 1968-72
Found aluminum attaché case with seven expressive brushes
(courtesy of the artist)
Does all this subversion still hold up, some thirty or forty years later?  I ask myself how much of my enjoyment of this wonderfully diverse and multi-faceted show derives from my having known and enjoyed the company of many of the artists back then; and from my simply having been there, immersed, myself, in the cultural climate of the time.  Do you have to have "been there," in that time and place, if you want to "get it"?  But then, of course, that's a part of the point: the whole idea of "timeless art" was being challenged by these artists, intent on demonstrating the art can well be of the moment, a simple aperçu, grasped, sketched out, or photographed without grand notions of its own importance.

A fine catalogue accompanies "Valley Vista," with a text by the exhibition's curator, Loyola Marymount art history professor Damon Willick and contributions by some of the artists included in the show--all of which give useful context to the time and place mentioned above.  One quibble: why no page references in the checklist of artworks at the back?  An annoyance to anyone, like myself, who needs to constantly leaf through to find the images he's looking for.  Ah, well.  As they say, you can't have everything...

1 comment:

Raoul De la Sota said...

I'm so glad that the exhibit included the funny, quirky work of Stuart /Rapeport but I wish I had been in there. I had two one-man shows at the great trend-setting Orlando Gallery as well as numerous group shows with many of the artists listed.
Raoul de la Sota