Los Angeles' Astonishing Art-Everywhere Scene

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Los Angeles' astonishing art-everywhere scene Cities wear museums the way admirals proudly display a chest of gleaming medals. Los Angeles earns dual decorations--and world attention--this month as the city puts finishing touches on not one but two major new museums devoted to the art of this century.

As this increasingly art-conscious and art-filled city sprouts art to soar over rush-hour traffic or to perch pristinely on gallery pedestals, there's no better time to learn some history of the world's newest major art-making center, to plunge into its present, and glimpse its future.

Along with the museum unveilings, the city's galleries plan shows they want world visitors to see. And next month brings a major international art fair.

Art critic Peter Plagens described Southern California's crescendo of activity: "... more artists in multiple Bohemias, more galleries, more alternative spaces, more collectors, more extension classes." With the November 23 opening of the Robert O. Anderson Building for art of this century, the 21-year-old Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will become the largest art museum this side of the Eastern seaboard. When the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) opens next month to join its preview facility--the Temporary Contemporary or TC--the two will combine to offer nearly as much exhibition space as New York's Museum of Modern Art.

MOCA director Richard Koshalek says you can measure a world-class city by the length of museum listings in guidebooks.

As if in response, former San Francisco Museum of Modern Art director Henry Hopkins--returning south to shape still another new museum--says, "Now the institutions are in place." He cites Malibu's J. Paul Getty, San Marino's Huntington, Pasadena's Norton Simon, this season's two newsmakers, as well as excellent teaching centers with accompanying libraries and galleries.

This coming-of-age didn't happen overnight; we have some 80 years of milestones to thank (see the time chart on pages 92 and 93). In the new museums, you can trace the progression.

While Northern California and Northwest artists took inspiration from surrounding natural beauty, Angelenos took it from a sense of open space, cars, Hollywood, and new technology--lacquers, space-age metals--put to use in a yeasty atmosphere of experimentation.

When you see an early work by Stanton Macdonald-Wright, you're looking at one of the first American's to pioneer a modern painting movement: his Synchronism combined Cubism with a new use of color. Still breaking new ground today is an art of light-and-space started by area artists--leading critics to describe L.A. as the only city in the world that can claim the genesis of a wholly new art form.

Drawing the world's attention in between have been the contradictory California Assemblage movement--marked by a fascination with the scavenging ethic--and the L.A. Look (or Fetish Finish)--where care is lavished on craftsmanship. And exposure to the great Mexican muralist tradition, popularized north of the border in the folk artist talents of Los Angeles' barrios, has given renewed force to the mural as a fine-art form; it's carried to greater heights here than in any other American city.

Impossible to ignore in any road map of the los Angeles art scene are those eminences of abstract painting, Sam Francis and Richard Diebenkorn--both southbound immigrants in the '60s. The L.A. light changed Francis's color-splashed canvases; Diebenkorn switched almost overnight from his figurative Bay Area work to his famous Ocean Park series.

Art makers evolving at all career stages today defy simple description. You'll see it all: Expressionism, Pop, Op, Minimalism, Conceptualism, and so on have developed into a whole '80s scene of "Post-" and "Neo-" movements. Add in performance art and video, and you have the widest definition of visual art ever known.

News at LACMA--the Anderson opens. …