A History of L.A. Art Spaces

Posted on: March 21st, 2012

As Part of the Citywide Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 Collaboration, the Getty Center has Recently Launched an Interactive Web Archive. ForYourArt Asked Claire de Dobay Rifelj to Help Navigate the Archive.

This dynamic site offers a digital snapshot of the art scene in Los Angeles from 1945–1980 via artworks documentary images, video interviews with artists and a historical map related to its four exhibitions.

A recurring refrain throughout the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions has been the notion that in pre-1980 Los Angeles, opportunities for artists to exhibit and to profit from their artistic activities were scarce. While the latter is certainly true—L.A. had no where near the stockpile of collectors, galleries, and museums as did a city like New York—the Getty’s online archive highlights the wide variety of sites that artists found to show their work.

To give a little background, L.A. proper did not have a dedicated art museum until 1965, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) opened its doors on Wilshire Boulevard. At its predecessor—the Los Angeles County Museum of Science, History and Art in Exposition Park—some L.A. artists were included in the annual juried exhibitions, but art galleries in the 1940s and early 50s rarely showed work by young L.A. artists. Certain spaces did at least expose them to the work of New York and European avant-gardes, including book stores like Jake Zeitlin’s “Red Barn,M.J. Royer’s Book Shop, and Books 55, as well as Barbara Byrnes’s American Contemporary Gallery in Hollywood.

Artists responded to this dearth of gallery representation with inventive solutions. In the mid-1950s, Edward Kienholz negotiated with the owner of the Coronet Louvre Theatre on La Cienega to install work by local artists in its lobby. He did the same with the greenroom of the Turnabout Theatre, a space that Kienholz named the NOW Gallery. In a more private context, Wallace Berman was known to make art inside of abandoned buildings in Venice Beach, and in 1957 George Herms staged his “Secret Exhibition,” an ephemeral display of work on Hermosa Beach open one day only to close friends. In later years, Billy Al Bengston and Guy Dill made their studios available for exhibitions and performances by fellow artists.

By the 1960s, numerous gallery owners came to appreciate the artistic talent emerging from these makeshift spaces, and the hotspot for viewing it was on La Cienega between Melrose and Santa Monica Boulevard. On Monday night “Art Walks,” visitors would flock to galleries run by, among others, Felix Landau, Esther Robles, David Stuart, Rolf Nelson, Nicholas Wilder, Riko Mizuno, and Molly Barnes. One prominent stop was the Ferus Gallery, one of the earliest spaces on La Cienega to focus on L.A. art—including that of Kienholz, one of its co-founders.

On the museum front, LACMA may not have opened until 1965, but the nearby Pasadena Art Museum, under the direction of Thomas Leavitt and Walter Hopps, gave important solo exhibitions to artists working in L.A. in the 1960s such as Llyn Foulkes, Peter Voulkos, Craig Kauffman, and Ken Price. It was also the site of Hopps’s New Painting of Common Objects—the first exhibition of Pop art in an American museum—which featured paintings by Ed Ruscha and Joe Goode. Ruscha mentions in a video that LACMA was slower to promote art made in Los Angeles. However, thanks in part to the efforts of curator Henry Hopkins, the museum soon followed Pasadena’s lead and organized exhibitions showcasing L.A. artists in the 1960s and ’70s.

For women artists and artists of color, meanwhile, the prospect of showing one’s work in Los Angeles was still difficult. Betye Saar found early opportunities at small organizations like the Palos Verdes Library, and later received attention from larger institutions as well as galleries devoted to the work of African American artists. Noah Purifoy, for his part, organized the exhibition 66 Signs of Neon at UCLA, which presented assemblages made from the rubble of the Watts uprisings. Universities frequently supported L.A.’s less-represented artists, and it was at the California Institute for the Arts that the groundbreaking Feminist Art Program, under the direction of Judy Chicago and Miriam Schaprio, came into being. For one of its projects—Womanhouse—female students transformed the rooms of a suburban house into art installations that played upon notions of domesticity and societal constraints.

Bypassing altogether the need for an exhibition space, Eleanor Antin produced her serial postcard work, 100 Boots, which she sent through the postal service. Between 1971 and 1973, Antin mailed out 51 sets of postcards that told the story, in pictures, of one hundred boots as they traveled across the country. Ed Ruscha also circumvented the gallery system by producing paperback artist books, each one illustrating a series of mundane objects in a deadpan photographic style. He sold them for as little as $2.50, which made them available to virtually anyone.

Artists in L.A. have consistently found ways to exhibit their work in both traditional and unconventional spaces, bringing their work to various audiences both large and small. This innovative spirit is still present today, even as Los Angeles is now considered a major center for contemporary art with world-class museums and dozens of high profile galleries.

Delve deeper into the history of the Los Angeles art world by visiting Pacific Standard Time at the Getty Center. The Getty has been adding more materials to this site, so check back often.

by Claire de Dobay Rifelj


1. Interior view of Barbara Byrnes’s American Contemporary Gallery in Hollywood in the late 1940s. Image courtesy of James Byrnes

2. Wallace Berman in an abandoned building on the Speedway (an alleyway running parallel to the beach) in Venice, California, ca. 1955–57. The Getty Research Institute, Charles Brittin papers, 2005.M.11. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo by Charles Brittin

3. Exhibition announcement for Action2: Works by West Coast Painters, at the NOW Gallery inside the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, September 5–25, 1956. Robert Alexander, designer. Letterpress on paper mounted on cardboard. The Getty Research Institute, Charles Brittin papers, 2005.M.11.15. Courtesy of the Temple of Man, Inc.

4. Felix Landau in his gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. Photo by Frank J. Thomas. Courtesy of the Frank J. Thomas Archives

5. Exterior view of Nicholas Wilder Gallery at the time of Ronald Davis’s first solo exhibition in 1965. Image courtesy of Ronald Davis

6. Poster for Karl Benjamin exhibition at the Esther-Robles Gallery in Los Angeles, 1964. © Karl Benjamin. The Getty Research Institute, Gift of Michael Asher, 2009.M.30.12



Transmission Artist: Mike Mills

Posted on: April 13th, 2012

ForYourArt 4 Transmission LA

A special series in partnership with Transmission LA

ForYourArt highlights our favorite artists participating in Transmission LA: AV CLUBa festival curated by Mike D of the Beastie Boys, which celebrates and presents contemporary art, music, film, and food. Open April 20-May 6, 2012 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. (more…)

Behind the Scenes: Development at LACMA

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012

For many, the inner workings of a museum are often obscured. ForYourArt steps into their offices to talk about what really happens.

Abby Bangser, director of Major Giving Programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since 2009, fell into development unsuspectingly, having interned at Chicago’s David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art and The Renaissance Society while in college and then working at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Passionate about fostering the museum’s growth, Bangser facilitates a variety of experiences for LACMA’s patron groups, enhancing donors’ interaction with not only art, but also the institution and Los Angeles’ cultural landscape at large.


Ed Schad: Smuggle in a Sandwich

Posted on: September 19th, 2012

ForYourArt commissioned essays about The Clock from art critics Andrew Berardini and Ed Schad on the occasion of its 24-hour screening at LACMA.

Join ForYourArt as Berardini and Schad discuss the film on Saturday, September 22 at 5pm during Around the Clock: 24 Hour Donut City II, LACMA’s Choice.

Smuggle in a Sandwich

by Ed Schad

I’m usually disappointed when what I am reading has difficulty dovetailing into what is actually occurring in my life. I remember once, in sub-zero temperatures in Chicago, literally hating how little W.B. Yeats had to say to me on the El as commuters shoved elbows and armpits in my face. A more recent insult was reading the deathbed speech of the Roman Emperor Julian while trapped in a Miami Bennigan’s on what happened to be Senior Karaoke Night. Julian’s lovely iambic verse died under an asinine braying of this is ladies night, oh what a night. Grave-turning and indigestion.

While waiting to view Christian Marclay’s The Clock at LACMA, however—and thank whoever there is to thank for this—I not only had Guy Davenport’s essays but also, by happy accident, I had chosen from the collection “Walt Whitman”: an essay about Horace Traubel’s conversations with Whitman over the course of 1,458 evenings from 1888 to 1892. Davenport specializes in plucking mind-altering nuggets from massive amounts of information, and out of mountains of transcripts, he notices, more than anything else, Whitman’s dirty floor. Davenport finds young Traubel surrounded by an ever-growing sea of paper, fragments, notes, and bits of snipped rhyme reaching a point of mass. It was difficult even to find a place to sit.

Little wonder Leaves of Grass went into 6 editions during Whitman’s lifetime alone. If not for Whitman’s death, no doubt, he would have continued his additive promiscuity, still aggregating, still making lists, synthesizing and promulgating themes into his epic. Whitman’s poem grew as the country grew, collecting words as the U.S. collected lands and states, dividing, fighting then moving west, constantly taking in and taking on more of the continent. The best way to get to the “we” of America was by exploring the multitude of the “I,” and Whitman wanted his “I” as big as possible. The floor got dirtier and more personal. Traubel’s record of his conversations with Whitman grew to 9 volumes and took 90 years to print.

However, I had to leave Whitman in Camden. LACMA’s Bing Theater opened and there was The Clock, running on the big screen. I was eager to see it and slipped seamlessly out of the poet’s clutter and collection of American realities into Christian Marclay’s collection of time.

I got my bearings in the dark theater, but I was already in The Clock as soon as I sat down. I’ve always been involved with and always been inside this flowing movie of clips. A Japanese boardroom, all white, with an enormous clock. Two people in bed—she’s naked and he’s late. An effortless turn down a dark hallway, and another turn at its end. A gleaming set of doors with nurses stitching in and out, carrying newborns, white again. A family sits at table. Orson Wells in The Third Man, examining a car crash. Christopher Walken kept the watch, “Up his ass,” only to come here, “little man,” and hand it to you. Back to the family table. Time for grace.

How easy it is to list these events kissed and assembled with Marclay’s poetic touch. With Whitman close at hand and floating in my head, the list could even flow right back into Leaves of Grass:

“The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of
the promenaders,
The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the
clank of the shod horses on the granite floor,
The snow-sleighs, clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snow-balls,
The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous’d mobs,
The flap of the curtain’d litter, a sick man inside borne to the hospital,
The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath . . .”

“What living and buried speech is always vibrating here,” Whitman says to close his stanza, and he could as easily be describing The Clock. I imagine multiple servers, hard drives, DVDs, pampas of notes and storage trying to hold Marclay’s big memory—a memory that aims at nothing less than everything—and feel the echo of Whitman’s dirty floor.

The Clock, however, might even be a more elegant synthesized whole than Leaves of Grass, which likes to groan and twist as much as wander into performances of virtuoso union. Neither can be taken in one sitting and both compulsively suck you in. Yet the tastes and gears of the contemporary give The Clock a sort of smuggle in a sandwich and pressure on the bladder addictive nature far beyond books. You push impossibly into the whole of it and are not content to stop. You are constantly in the pseudo-involvement of a film, but cannot pick up the story because there is no story (Isn’t it strange to be unable to leave a story because there is no story?).

Instead, you follow The Clock, are absorbed into The Clock. My eyes twitched and sought, followed each stimulation. Even after I made myself leave The Clock for my car, each billboard and point of ordinary fascination on Wilshire was something I had to have and take in like a bag of M&Ms. The Clock mimics the hungry joy of Whitman and gives it tight entertainment value.

Zadie Smith called The Clock “neither bad nor good, but sublime, maybe the greatest film you have ever seen,” and she’s exactly right. The Clock is a constant sublime apparition, a ceaseless trove of awe-production, at least at the moment. Certain people may have lost their interest in the Grand Canyon. Not so for The Clock, at least not yet. You don’t get bored. You can say you “get it,” that you have the concept of The Clock, but the minute-to-minute dazzle of the film quickly reminds you that there’s more to life than concepts. You are checked only by biological need and the schedules of the day. If you are Geoff Dyer, even the schedules evaporate, for the writer confessed that on seeing The Clock, there was nothing in his day to rival it. Appointments are ignored. Such is the tightly bound but densely fascinating world of The Clock.

The Clock both is and isn’t Whitman’s dirty floor. It has the fragments but not the clutter. It is an aggregation but is fully mature. I think of Whitman and Whitman’s poem and necessarily see a vibrantly bearded madman containing his frowzy America. Equally just is thinking of Marclay as he is: a thin, serious Euro-DJ bent on perfection, turning time in an almost perfect machine.

I find this distinction significant. In Leaves of Grass, life is ever in the process of becoming art and therefore remains life. In The Clock, life has gotten so close to art, so remarkable sown into a whole, that the dramatic difference between the film and life becomes miraculously apparent. While in Whitman, the collective “we” emerges from the dramatically large “I,” in Marclay, the collective “we” and thousands of little “I”s arrive as a seamless whole.

We gasp together in The Clock, we get scared together, we laugh together, and it’s haunting because we discover we are haunted: by an imperfect but ever present past; by various voices that can seem so utterly perfectly like our voice that we forget we come from those very voices.  We can, if we get meditative, entertain notions of how we are built and how we are all a population of ghosts—all reflected facets of a thousand faces. In The Clock, we dance with Eisenstein’s and Hugo’s automaton, a creature only half alive. It’s the best we can do before we lose control and become ourselves.

How we are built is the knowledge that we collectively build the significant particulars of each moment of our lives. We start with a shared biology—we eat in intervals, we lose steam in the afternoon, we sleep at night, and frequently because of the popularity of sleep as a nighttime activity, we find that the deep night is often spent alone. These biological details, with consciousness, become metaphoric—dawn becomes a stand in for birth, the early morning a time of youthful inspiration, the adult grind and reality of the afternoon, the soft decline of the evening, death at dark. Certain historical moments try to transcend metaphor—Jesus died at 3 o’clock on Good Friday and Christians believe that at 3 o’clock on that day, they are literally closer to that point in history than at any moment. It is not always a religious impulse though—anyone who has discovered that at 8:46 in the morning it’s easier to feel closer to 9-11 knows this: it’s the moment the plane hit the first World Trade Center Tower. No other moment of the day is closer.

The Clock is built from these significant particulars, which are subsequently built from thousands of sources and authors. It is a collage of art based on what is collectively built by humans out of stories and into movies; out of movies and into other movies. Each instant is the vision of someone else, yet collectively, it is a vision of us, as though a multitude of ants were sent by an unknown impulse out to an array of paths, and when each returned with their individual found, hewn, or constructed pebble, the built mound still looked like a mound. Biology appears, metaphor comes naturally, and historical flash points organize, just like in history. And also like history, Marclay’s The Clock, ultimately, with all of its clips, alternate realities, and mixed music, miraculously is still a day.

And like all perfect art, The Clock brings us to the point where we are all remarkably passive—to the ledge of becoming what we are, which transcends representation, which means being an ambitious actor inside Whitman’s multitude, which means leaving the theater. It will be messy once it starts, and it starts once we leave art and enter life. In my viewing of The Clock, this was the moment, having seen all the tables set and food prepared, I discovered I was hungry. Right on time.

Read Andrew Berardini’s essay on the clock here.

Christian Marclay, Detail of The Clock, 2010, Single-channel video with sound, 24 hours, © Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Andrew Berardini: The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks (for Christian Marclay)

Posted on: September 19th, 2012

ForYourArt commissioned essays about The Clock from art critics Andrew Berardini and Ed Schad on the occasion of its 24-hour screening at LACMA.

Join ForYourArt as Berardini and Schad discuss the film on Saturday, September 22 at 5pm during Around the Clock: 24 Hour Donut City II, LACMA’s Choice.


The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks
(for Christian Marclay)

by Andrew Berardini

All these are just memories, somebody’s. Scarred by ticks and marred by tocks, stained by the measured flow of passing moments, a clock can have any number of singular purposes: to measure the movement of celestial spheres or the breakdown of molecules; the frenetic, motionless lull of an oncologist’s waiting room; or the pure unit of the timeless (a swimming hole, afternoon, spring) that is marked not by its length but by its beginning and end. It does not have to be regular. It only has to happen, one after the other, until it stops—if it stops. The first clocks were for communicating with gods. The last syllable of recorded time has yet to be uttered. Almost all of it is, more or less, arbitrary.

✳         ✳         ✳

This clock measures the exact unit of time from the moment you step into a movie theater while it’s still daylight outside to the moment you leave the cool darkness into a shadowy evening.

This clock is the weight of water which flows through it.

This clock is the sun passing through the curtain patterned with pinks and greens, smiling lions and guffawing hippos, crisscrossed by leafy forests, and further cut by the bars onto a crib where sadness rages and weeps, getting lost in the fold of blankets and the sweat of midday struggles. The sweat cools, the sadness settles and notices the gaps. It lifts and blinks, stumbling awake to peer through and beyond.

This clock is the amount of kissing one can do before one’s lips are thoroughly chapped.

This clock is the duration of John Keats’ last cough.

This clock refuses to show its face out of shyness.

This is the clock of imagined dragons in sweetlands ruled by children with dirty faces; of low-hanging jerks and funereal theaters hovered over so that all those who did wrong can be witnessed in their woe with glee; of mothers and fathers coming home from long trips, and all the gear for all the dolls, and the disastrous day when all the kickball games have been won, for ends of books and the worries of the day, turning away from the drum and batter of the quotidian and becoming a tossled head sneaking deeper into feathers.

This is one of Dali’s clocks, flaccid and droopy, deciding it has served its time being splashed with domestic lager on frat house walls and printed poorly upon umbrellas and journal covers, and is going off-scene for a ten-dollar Double Corona and some time alone to read a George Simenon paperback.

This clock measures whimpers and orgasms.

This clock measures the recurrent rhythm of everything. It has wheels for seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years; but also nanoseconds and millennia, and for units of millions and billions of years. It has wheels for the movements of moons and planets, stars and star systems, for the drift of nebulae and the spiraling of galactic arms. It has wheels for the half-lives of radioactive stones and for the spin of electrons; for rhythms of tides and the seasonal migrations of birds; for the sporing of mushrooms and the gestation cycles of elephants. It has wheels that measure the first laughs of infants and the rise-and-fall of civilizations. There’s not a breath of wind or a solar flare it has not timed. Made with incredible love, it is filigreed and jeweled, gilded with platinum and titanium, microchips and plasma, the organic and inorganic in perfect harmony. The clock contains all the dreams of the multitude who constructed it, lives upon lives of the most brilliant technicians and horologists, artists and artisans, scientists of all kinds and shamans of the first rank. A cog is added for every life and cogs on that to measure all the breaks and snags, beats and tempos, however irregular, each measurable moment within it. Some wheels arc thousands of miles, others can only be seen with molecular microscopes. Daily, poets work out new durations, new rhythms to be measured, new moments in time. Each generation replaces the next and the clock grows. All of them long to destroy it, this timely prison, this trap.

This clock is the rumble of two highways, the clunk and churn of factories, the whistle of the wind as it dances along the river under two adulterous lovers hunched together in the cold along a thin strip of steel stretched over a clutch of pipes. Headlights flicker along the highways, mingling with the unfriendly orange of streetlamps and the burn of signs offering burgers and cars, liquor and women; the dancing reflection of all these lights churned in the vast river below. The silence and darkness of its size wages a quiet war against all the drones and coughs of the city, its flow a tidy antidote to the concrete that contains it, its lapping sound without beginning, without end, flowing and sounding ever onward. Desire folds into desire, solid flesh melts and resolves itself into a dew.

This clock measures the time between summer and Christmas Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break, Spring Break and summer.

This clock is a forest of flowers that peel their petals and gently fold closed at exactly the right moment. “What time is it?” you ask. And I reply “The Hawkweed just closed” or “The Proliferous Pink just parted her petals.”

This clock is the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal Pentelic marble monument that punctures the agora. Sundry sundials, flowing waterand a windvane all attempt to capture time, but time captured it first. Buried for centuries, only now do scholars with bushy eyebrows and after-shaved politicians poke at its powers to try and free it from decay.

This clock is , where

- is the proper time between events A and B for a slow-ticking observer within the gravitational field,
- is the coordinate time between events A and B for a fast-ticking observer at an arbitrarily large distance from the massive object (this assumes the fast-ticking observer is using Schwarzschild coordinates, a coordinate system where a clock at infinite distance from the massive sphere would tick at one second per second of coordinate time, while closer clocks would tick at less than that rate),
- is the gravitational constant,
- is the mass of the object creating the gravitational field,
- is the radial coordinate of the observer (which is analogous to the classical distance from the center of the object, but is actually a Schwarzschild coordinate),
- is the speed of light, and
 is the Schwarzschild radius of M.

This clock is a game of peekaboo: it tumbles, it chortles, it jumps, it peeks, and closes.  Hiding behind a battered futon, the scabby arm of a greenish loveseat, behind the softest plush of Chickie and the supine gray velvet of Momo, behind a potted fern and a leafy rhododendron, behind most normally two twitchy hands. Every time it is found with a giggle, and every giggle spooks another hiding, and every hiding another giggle, and on.

This clock is the Official Timepiece of the Gravity Falls with Grunkle Stan strapped to a beam of pure light in a vacuum moving at roughly 299,792,458 miles-per-second, both hands perpetually stuck at the missing “S” of The Mystery Shack.

This clock is the aroma of creek mud smelled on an autumn evening. The clock ticks every time the scent carries to the person who first breathed it in after school one day when the street lights blinked on and the buzz of insects signaled twilight.

This clock is a member in good standing of the Antiquarian Horological Society.

This clock is a stomach. This clock is a cock. This clock is a pussy. Each knows exactly what time it is when it’s time.

This clock is the exact time it takes to read the wrong letter.

This clock is

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

the mountain.

This clock is the susurrus of all the heartbeats slowing down to sleep as darkness creeps to darkness and dream flows to dream, each a door to the other, a mansion with endless rooms.

This is the first clock built by the first boss for the first slave.

This clock is a long day of summer sex. Sleeping and waking flow together almost without seam, excepting the precise mechanisms that link the sheet pulled over the window, lightly flapping in a light breeze to the creep of muffled sunlight drawing long shadows across a floor crowded with crumpled clothes to the careful, quiet punctuation of each sigh.

This clock is the first gunshot in the morning and the last at dusk.

This clock is a moment of time in every movie collected by a small coterie of watchers that is diligently stitched together by a single man. He does not care particularly about film, or time. He only loves the sounds of stitching.

Read Ed Schad’s essay on the clock here.

Christian Marclay, Detail of The Clock, 2010, Single-channel video with sound, 24 hours, © Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York