Critical Distance: Pacific Standard Time and the History of Remembering

Art Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Critical Distance: Pacific Standard Time and the History of Remembering


In the fall season of 2011, the expansive reach of the Getty and its cultural capital are relentlessly visible signs in the landscape throughout Los Angeles. Traversing Ithe mythically vast reaches of Southern California in the customary manner--by automobile--one is likely to encounter any number of thoroughfares lined with hot pink banners advertising Pacific Standard Time, each emblazoned with the initiative's logo: a radial design immediately recognizable as a clock's face. To a cultural participant, it's an almost-comically constant, stress-inducing reminder of the exhibitions one has yet to see. Likewise, the initiative's website informs its users of the current day, time, and number of PST "exhibitions open right now"--meaning, each of these shows (forty-seven, as of this moment of writing) will eventually close. Tick, tick, tick...

This ubiquitous logo, the Getty's seal of approval, not only graces the city's boulevards, but marks each of the sanctioned PST exhibition sites and officially affiliated commercial galleries, as well as numerous exhibition catalogues and countless pieces of ephemera. I was also greeted by the clock at Los Angeles International Airport, upon returning home from a trip to New York, and--most alarmingly--on the screen of a Bank of America automated teller machine, as I withdrew money from my account. It turns out the corporate giant has provided support for PST, land indeed the bank's exponentially more ubiquitous logo frequently joins those of the Getty and PST as a formidable, albeit complicated superbrand. The Althusserian complexity of this overdetermined relationship struck home on 'October 1, the official opening day of Pacific Standard Time that was, coincidentally, also the first day of the Occupy Los Angeles protest: Standing at the ATM in a supermarket near my home in West Los Angeles, I was startled to see a photograph by Harry Gamboa, Jr., of a 1974 performance by his Chicano collaborative group Asco titled Instant Mural, in which the artist Gronk taped collaborator Patssi Valdez to an otherwise blank wall in East Los Angeles. The image of this street action by the once-obscure band of outsiders, known for performative works that blurred the line between art and activism, was now recontextualized as an advertisement for Pacific Standard Time and Bank of America. Bewildered, I extracted my ccash and wondered how unlikely--or, perhaps, how inevitable--it is that these locks would synchronize at this moment, circa 2011.

Asco's narrative thread, thoroughly considered in the exhibition Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, represents only one among dozens of compelling stories one might follow throughout the sixty exhibitions that comprise the PST initiative; it is also one of the most emarkable. In 1972, three members of the group (Gamboa, Gronk, and Willie erron) signed their names on the entrance to LACMA with red spray paint--a uchampian gesture (signing the museum as a kind of readymade), as captured 'n Gamboa's photograph Spray Paint LACMA (East Bridge), with Valdez standing above names--pointedly protesting the marginalization of Chicano artists by the useum. Thirty-nine years later the group was not only given a proper retrospective inside the museum but made central in the marketing of PST, from printed matter and banners to, well, automated teller machines. It should perhaps be ointed out that the show, organized by C. Ondine Chavoya and Rita Gonzalez, as already in the planning stages before becoming enveloped in the Getty's farreaching mission. But Asco is also implicated in the historical contexts presented in numerous other PST exhibitions, including Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974-1981 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA); Los Angeles Goes Live: rformance Art in Southern California, 1970-1983 at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE); and State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970 at the Orange County useum of Art, with several related performances. …

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