Art Criticism

Michael Govan
Pacific Time in LA

Extract from Apollo Magazine. The full article is available by subscription from Apollo Magazine

Michael Govan

But it is Pacific Standard Time that he is interested in talking about on this trip to London, a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California that are coming together for six months in October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the visual arts scene in Los Angeles in order for the city to claim its rightful place within the international art world. Getting out his i-pad he shows me photographs of LA in the 1920s when it still looked like a sleepy village. It was the introduction of the railroads, the discovery of oil and the emergence of Hollywood that changed the city’s fortunes. “Free of all that European history of war there was a huge investment in science, technology and education”, he explains. It was, he suggests, part of the American Dream, a rebirth of a modernist utopia where designers such as Charles Eames felt able to make their mark.

Now supported by the J. Paul Getty Trust, Pacific Standard Time aims to explore the cultural significance of the crucial years after World War II, through the tumultuous period of the 1960s and 70s. It will encompass Pop to post-minimalism, modernist architecture and design, as well as multi-media installations. There will be films from the African-American L.A. Rebellion and the feminist activities of the Woman’s Building, exhibitions of ceramics, Japanese-American design, Chicano performance art and the work of pioneering artist’s collectives. “There has never been a project like this, anywhere in the world, where virtually all of a major city’s institutions come together to tell a single story” Govan insists. Southern California gave birth to many of today’s most vital artistic trends, yet the story of how this came about through cultural innovation and social change is still largely unknown. By the 1950s the cultural and ethnic melting pot that was Los Angeles was developing its own art forms of assemblage, sculpture and hard-edged painting, throwing up names such as Ed Kienholz and Ed Ruscha who have since become art superstars.

Although concentrated in Greater Los Angeles, Pacific Standard Time will transform all of Southern California, extending as far as San Diego in the South, Santa Barbara in the north and Palm Springs in the east. It will involve institutions from the Getty Museum and LACMA to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, as well as galleries, movie houses and restaurants. In the words of Govan’s colleague, Deborah Marrow, the interim President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, “What began as an effort to document the milestones in this region’s artistic history has expanded until it is now becoming a great creative landmark in itself.” With no government involvement, Pacific Standard Time is lead by the Getty Foundation and LA’s leading institutions. “This is about a city finding its identify. We’re making a little bit of history”, Govan insists before rushing off to his next meeting.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011

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