Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art
Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture
South Hall, 1201 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015
January 23 – 27, 2013 / Opening Reception: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Co-Curated by: Jack Rutberg and Aldis Browne
Artists: Lita Albuquerque, John Baldessari, Bill Barminski, Wallace Berman, Chris Burden, Hans Burkhardt, Huguette Caland, Doug Edge, Mark X Farina, Jud Fine, Llyn Foulkes, Eve Fowler, Gajin Fujita, Scott Grieger, Mark Steven Greenfield, Raul Guerrero, George Herms, Dennis Hopper, Ed Kienholz, Barbara Kruger, Lynn Hanson, Charles LaBelle, Mark Licari, Michael C. McMillen, Jim Morphesis, Bruce Nauman, Stas Orlovski, David Allan Peters, Paulin Paris, Raymond Pettibon, Lari Pittman, Ken Price, Bruce Richards, Ed Ruscha, Richard Shelton, Alexis Smith, J. Michael Walker, Gordon Wagner, Tom Wudl and others.
The LA Art Show 2013 Featured Exhibition Distinguishing L.A.’s Unique International Identity
The LA Art Show is proud to present Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art as its featured exhibition of 2013. Conceived and curated by Jack Rutberg, in association with Aldis Browne, this exhibition puts a spotlight on this distinctive aspect of L.A. art. While “text in art” has long been broadly addressed in numerous exhibitions, Letters from Los Angeles may well represent the first time that text in L.A. art has been specifically addressed. It will no doubt serve as the impetus for further discourse and historical reflection.
L.A.’s association with typography in the visual arts is unique. Text has historically been ubiquitous on the city’s streets with advertisements, political placards, graffiti, and L.A.’s ever-present billboards that surfaced as far back as the onset of Southern California’s car culture and highway system at the turn of the last century.
While other cities are represented by monumental structures such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, New York’s Empire State Building, the Acropolis in Athens, Big Ben in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, etc., L.A.’s most prominent symbols are text – most iconic is the Hollywood Sign, along with the great movie studio logos of MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, etc., which have been familiar to billions of people in each generation around the world for nearly a century. So it is perhaps understandable that Los Angeles has a pronounced affinity for the usage of text in the visual arts which distinguishes it from its historic precedents.
Typography in modern art first surfaced in the last decades of the 19th century with the invention of the original color lithographic poster, when artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Cheret, and Steinlen portrayed the demi-monde of Paris and in the process celebrated specific cafes, performers, liquors, and other new and essential products. Later, the abstract use of typography appeared in many avant-garde aspects of 20th century art, including the Cubists, Russian Constructivists, Bauhaus, Dada, Surrealists, and Pop artists.
The artists featured in this Letters from Los Angeles exhibition have used text in extraordinarily diverse ways: immortalizing L.A.’s signs, streets, and gas stations; using comic book captions to convey dramatic angst, juxtaposing text with appropriated images; framing collages with wry observations and titles; surrealist re-configuring of old prints and clippings with snatches of verse and prose, employing the power of language to pose disquieting comments in conceptual works, often dealing with anti-war, racial, and gender issues. The range of approaches is as individual as the artists themselves. The vast and diverse ways that Southern California artists incorporate words, numerals, and text reflects an aesthetic that might even be seen as a logical antecedent to the current spotlight on contemporary graffiti and tattoo art.
Since the 1960s, text in the art of L.A. was most popularized by Edward Ruscha, whose works are included in this exhibition. Letters from Los Angeles also includes works from the artist whose works were most ubiquitous in the 1960s – Corita Kent (1918-1986). Concurrent with the LA Art Show, Corita Kent’s works are the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College in New York, presented through the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation. Quoting the Warhol Foundation: “… Sister Corita, who achieved fame in the 1960s as a liberal activist artist nun …incorporated text borrowed from a wide variety of sources, from advertising to literature to scripture. …their ingenious textual amalgams exhort viewers to create a better society, and mix secular and religious, pop culture and fine art, suffering and joy. As such they are a vibrant expression of the contradictions and enthusiasms of sixties culture.”
Theirs was by no means the first extensive use of typography in L.A. contemporary art. For example, from 1955 to 1964, Wallace Berman (1926-1976) brought typography and poetry together in a distinct and provocative way though a loose-leaf, free form art and poetry series entitled “Semina.”
This now rare collection of “Semina” would ultimately be reconstructed [shown in this exhibition] by an artist closely associated with Berman, George Herms, one of the most significant collage artists to emerge from that generation.
In painting, while text can be seen in the anti-war canvases of Hans Burkhardt (1904- 1994), as well as in his paintings reacting to the Hollywood labor wars at the end of WW II, this exhibition includes Burkhardt’s Basel Graffiti paintings of 1981, before the term “graffiti” was generally considered in the realm of fine art.
Burkhardt’s extraordinary paintings were not graffiti art in and of themselves, but rather, formidable statements about graffiti and the plight of the street markmakers he encountered during travels to Basel, Switzerland. Burkhardt’s paintings are powerful reflections upon the urban landscape he witnessed; however, more directly, they capture the angst, as well as the hope, of a generation five decades younger than Burkhardt. With astounding expressionist verve, Hans Burkhardt’s are the most painterly works in Letters from Los Angeles.
A particularly fitting location, The LA Art Show’s exhibition, Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art begins immediately upon entering the Los Angeles Convention Center where two monumental works – terrazzo floors by Alexis Smith – reside. The South Hall Lobby of the Convention Center features an expansive map of the Pacific Rim. Spanning 50,000 square feet, this work is inset with medallions depicting cultural motifs from Pacific Rim cultures. The Convention Center’s South Hall Lobby floor reveals Smith’s night sky on its two levels. Whether viewed in close proximity by standing within their space or by engaging them from an upper vantage point, they are remarkable for their beauty.
While Los Angeles’ international recognition is acknowledged via text, it must be noted that Angelinos also self-identify with text, as no other city in the world refers to itself in both the written and spoken word so distinctly and interchangeably as we do with the initials: “L.A.”
Letters from Los Angeles offers but one aspect of Los Angeles’ history. At a time when many have mythologized the contemporary art of this city into a neat simple equation or school or group of artists, such as those associated with the important Ferus Gallery of the 1960s, we recognize this amazing and expansive realm of L.A. history. It might very well be regarded as “Ferus’ Day Off.” *