The Castello di Rivoli's exhibition of art in Los Angeles from 1960 to the present day (9 May-23 August) comes via the Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg and the Louisiana Museum at Humlebaek in Denmark. Its last stop will be the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles, this autumn. It follows the Castello's successful show of highlights from the Whitney Museum, New York, last winter.
“Sunshine and Noir” is the title given to the exhibition by the curator Lars Nittve (appointed last month to direct the future Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London) to emphasise the profound contrasts that characterise Los Angeles: the city that is both “infernal” and the “Garden of Eden”; where it is almost always sunny yet where there is a film noir tradition where the inhabitants live in the glamorous suburbs of Hollywood, the slums of Compton or somewhere in between; where 60% of the people here living the California dream are non-English-speaking.
The forty years covered by this exhibition witnessed the emergence of multicultural Los Angeles as it is today, and the art that developed in this West Coast capital reflects this faithfully. The city is full of mavericks, and its art is in strong contrast to the carefully pigeonholed trends and movements that typify New York. Artists here are trained in the most varied of ways—compared with their East Coast colleagues, who “way back in the 1960s began earning their living under the protective wing of MoMA”—at a time when the future artists of LA were still paddling on Venice Beach. There is no equivalent of SoHo or Chelsea in LA, and to make a tour of the galleries you have to become a nomad for several days.
These and other differences explain the flowering of so many different voices and their relationship to one another. Mr Nittve shows this by taking the most recent tendencies as his starting point: one is the austere revival of Conceptualism and Minimalism by artists such as Charles Ray and Jason Rhoades (this is the tendency favoured by the collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, who left a large part of his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art); the other has more fire and flesh and includes Laura Aguilar’s photographs of members of cultural minorities, Paul McCarthy’s performances, the installations of Mike Kelley, Kim Dingle’s biting critique of the American way of life and Catherine Opie’s deviant portraiture.
Performance art has its roots in Action Painting, represented in LA by John Altoon and Sam Francis. Also in the field of painting, we can compare abstract (and metaphysical) painters like Richard Diebenkorn and his predecessor John McLaughlin with figurative painters like David Hockney, the English exile, and Llyn Foulkes, who uses pictorial language to demythologise the American Dream.
The essays in the catalogue examine these contradictions in detail. In a chronology of Los Angeles, William R. Hackman shows how the myth of California as an art centre is an invention of New York rather than a reality. Laura Cottingham describes the development of feminist art on the West Coast. Timothy Martin discusses recent experiments in performance art. The title of Russell Ferguson’s essay, “The noise of torn canvas”, alludes to the strongly individual voice of a number of Californian iconoclasts.
Terms which recur in the catalogue, like light, shade, action, inevitably remind the reader of cinema and its indirect effect on the plastic arts.
Californian art is also strongly represented in the collection of Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin (10 May-6 September). The Rivoli show is complemented by an exhibition of work from Italian collections at the Rebaudengo Foundation in Guarene d’Alba. Curated by Francesco Bonami, the focus here is on the body and individuality in relation to space, society and the environment. Well-known figures like Jim Isermann, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Jennifer Pastor, Toni Oursler, Raymond Pettibon, Lari Pittman, Charles Ray, Jeffrey Valance and Catherine Opie are joined by artists of the current generation. Among them are artists such as Doug Aitken, Julie Becker, Jennifer Bornstein, Kevin Hanley, Sharon Lockhart and Jason Rhoades.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as "Black and white in technicolour"