Pacific Standard Time USA

Deborah Marrow: tales from the archives

The Getty Foundation's director explains how revelatory stories from curators and chroniclers led to an unparallelled celebration of art made in and around LA

From left: Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation, Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum and Michael Govan, director of LACMA at the PST opening event held at the Getty Center in Los Angeles on 2 October (Photo: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

Pacific Standard Time is among the most ambitious visual arts initiatives ever staged. As director of the Getty Foundation, Deborah Marrow has spent ten years overseeing the astounding growth of the project, from an act of scholarly conservation to the opus it is today, awarding grants of some $10m along the way.

Despite her central role in bringing Pacific Standard Time to fruition, Marrow admits that even she is amazed at the sheer scope of the final event. “I don’t even call it a festival, because it’s bigger,” she said. “Usually a festival is something a few weeks long— this is going to be lots of things happening over six months. We need a new term to describe it.”

The project was prompted by Lyn Kienholz, a key chronicler of the LA art scene (and first wife of artist Ed Kienholz), and Henry Hopkins, the late former director of the Hammer Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA). “Henry and Lyn came to see us about what they perceived as a huge problem— that Los Angeles was in danger of losing the history of its art in the post-war decades,” Marrow said. She and her deputy director at the foundation, Joan Weinstein, immediately set in progress a grants system aimed at identifying and preserving the documentary records. “We were looking at it as an archival project,” Marrow explained.

The driving factor in the event’s expansion was the revelatory nature of the documentary materials. “We started hearing from individual organisations that they were finding fantastic stories in these archives, and we started to think that this was bigger than just a behind-the-scenes project,” Marrow said. “These are stories that should be told, and they should be told through exhibitions and publications.”

The final tally of organisations involved numbers more than 60 public institutions, and many more commercial galleries. Each has carved its own niche within the project. “We let them tell us what their interests were and what they were going to do,” Marrow said. “And then it just took off. Even after we had stopped giving grants, we had people calling us and saying, ‘We know you’re not giving any grants, but we have this exhibition in mind and we’d like to come under the umbrella.’”

A key aspect that emerges from the many events is diversity, both in the fecundity of artistic enquiry—from the reductive and ephemeral minimalism of Light and Space, to Ed Kienholz’s excessive environments, both of which pioneered installation art— and in terms of the variety of communities who made their mark on LA culture. And in staging Pacific Standard Time across so many venues, the story can be told in its full complexity.

“There are a lot of things that happened which have many different viewpoints,” Marrow said. “There was a lot of freedom on the one hand, but on the other, if you look at the political art, or assemblage, there was a reaction against the lack of freedom for a lot of people. Artistic freedom wasn’t there in the early years for all groups. So there is no one easy story telling us what art in Los Angeles is like.”

Ten years after Lyn Kienholz and Henry Hopkins expressed their concerns about preserving LA’s art history, Marrow is palpably excited by the resounding and comprehensive response from museums and galleries across the region. “I think and I hope that it will change people’s perception of art in Southern California, by finally telling a fuller story,” she said.

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