Art and the City

Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
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    Art and the City
    Book Description:

    No longer represented only by Hollywood and the commercial fashion industry, Los Angeles in recent years has received international media attention as one of the world's new art centers. From the appearance of local artists in major European exhibitions to widely reported multimillion-dollar museum endowments, Los Angeles has entered the world cultural stage.

    Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angelesplaces this celebrated arrival in the richer context of art controversies and political contests over modern art and art spaces in the twentieth century. The Ferus Gallery's pop-infused "L.A. Look" and "finish-fetish," now synonymous with Los Angeles's postwar modernist aesthetics, emerged from a dispersed art community that struggled in the 1950s to find a toehold in a local scene reeling from the censure of the McCarthy era. The Watts Towers have long faced neglect despite their international fame, while Venice Beach, Barnsdall Park, Griffith Park, and Olvera Street proved highly contentious sites of urban cultural expression.

    Challenging historical accounts that situate the city's origins as an art center in the 1960s,Art and the Cityargues that debates over modernism among artists and civic leaders alike made art a charged political site as early as the 1910s. The legacy of those early battles reverberated throughout the century. Because of a rich tradition of arts education and the presence of Hollywood, Los Angeles historically hosted a talented population of contemporary artists. However, because of the snug relationship between urban aesthetics and capital investment that underscored the booster goals of the civic arts movement, modern artists were pushed out of public exhibition spaces until after World War II.Art and the Cityuncovers the historic struggles for cultural expression and creative space that are hidden behind the city's booster mythology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0410-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    One year before millions of people took to the streets to protest new federal policies mandating the criminalization of undocumented workers in the United States, Los Angeles hosted its own demonstration of anti-immigrant sentiment. In the spring of 2005 the group Save Our State called on the city of Baldwin Park, a largely Latino municipality within Los Angeles, to remove offending language from Judith Baca’s public artworkDanzas Indigenas. Installed at the Baldwin Park Metrolink station in 1993, the piece, which resembles eroding Spanish mission archways, is inscribed with passages from Chicano literature and Native American folklore.Danzas Indigenashad...

  4. Chapter 1 Boosters, Early Moderns, and the Artful Civic Imaginary
    (pp. 12-42)

    The seeds of Los Angeles’ postwar modern art conflicts were planted in the early twentieth century when the visual arts, in the form of painting and commercially produced prints, were deployed by booster engines such as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Civic Bureau of Music and Art of Los Angeles County, theLos Angeles Times, the Sunkist marketing cooperative, and the Municipal Art Commission to sell the city and the surrounding region. Early in the city’s promotional history, art, both in its physical form as paint on canvas and as a conceptual product of cultural capital, became politically...

  5. Chapter 2 Modernism in Public Spaces
    (pp. 43-63)

    In early twentieth-century Los Angeles, the civic arts movement shaped a regional identity grounded in conventional assumptions about high art and its accompanying cultural capital. Despite a close community of modern and contemporary artists, there was little in the way of a gallery scene or a museum to encourage a diverse visual culture in Los Angeles, and booster fantasies of civic grandeur continued to dominate representations of the city. In the early 1930s the critical commentator Morrow Mayo could still write, “Daily the Angel City propagandizes itself as ‘the Athens of the Western World, the Cultural Center of the West.’...

  6. Chapter 3 Painting the Town Red
    (pp. 64-96)

    Immediately following World War II, the United States laid claim to a new episode in modern art, that of the hypermasculine, energetic action painting made famous by Jackson Pollock. Bolstered and promoted by the critic Clement Greenberg, who established the formalist parameters of postwar modernism, and an aesthetic feature seamlessly assimilated intoLifeandVoguemagazines, abstract expressionism dominated the national art scene. Of artists innovating this genre, Pollock was the best known in the United States, but he had famous fellow travelers in Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, and Adolph Gottlieb, among others. Abstract expressionism as a national movement...

  7. Chapter 4 Bohemia in Vogue
    (pp. 97-134)

    In the 1960s theNew York Times, Art News, Art in America, Vogue, andTimemagazine covered the Los Angeles art scene and, for the first time, brought young local artists to the forefront of national media attention.¹Vogue’s November 1967 issue featured a six-page promotional article byArtforumfounder and contributing editor John Coplans on the most prominent of Los Angeles’ artists, including Edward Kienholz, Ken Price, Craig Kauffman, Billy Al Bengston, Larry Bell, and Robert Irwin. Los Angeles, the city notorious for a lack of civic culture and a hostility toward modernism, suddenly hosted the most exciting trends...

  8. Chapter 5 Imagining the Watts Towers
    (pp. 135-164)

    In 1959, while the Venice Beach Gas House hearings raged in the press, the Los Angeles City’s Council’s Building and Safety Committee reissued an old order to demolish the Watts Towers. Far from the civic art battles and the excitement of La Cienega’s new gallery scene, an unassimilated and self-educated Italian laborer had worked alone in his backyard, building the city its most famous artwork. On his awkwardly shaped triangular lot on East 107 Street in Watts, Sabato Rodia lived from 1921 to 1954, when he deeded his property to a neighbor and abruptly moved to Martinez, in northern California.¹...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-170)

    New social movements and political identities took hold of a generation of artists in the 1970s. Modern and contemporary art became an “art of engagement,” art that was irrefutably political, offering trenchant social critiques of racism, sexism, the Vietnam War, and colonialism.¹ Struggles for racial and gender equality produced exciting art reflecting new political identities and heated claims to social and cultural turf. Cities across the country, from San Diego to New York, saw freeway and subway murals that spoke of neighborhood pride and youthful artist celebrity. Los Angeles was no different in that the black and Chicano arts movements,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-202)
  11. Index
    (pp. 203-212)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 213-216)