The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century

The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century

The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century

The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

Exploring the transformation of California into a center for contemporary art through the twentieth century, this book uses the experiences of the artists examined dramatically illustrate the paths taken as the United States has developed a more diverse and inclusive culture.

Excerpt

The art world [is] such a funny place because it[’s] like a big bal
loon: You push real hard and it’s flexible and elastic and resilient; so
you push and push and push, and all of a sudden it goes—schwoo. It
takes you inside, and you can’t get out.

—Edward Kienholz

We are told that the art produced in the Bay Area is of nationwide
importance and interest. Sometimes we are even told that it has
international import. We, of course, think that it is all important just
because it is ours.

—Fred Martin, circa 1960

In a passionate, often angry article published in 1963 in Artforum, a new journal dedicated to critical discussion of West Coast art, painter Fred Martin expressed his outrage at the conception of art history embodied in recent exhibition programs at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the nation’s oldest modern art museum west of Manhattan. He viewed the priorities of the museum’s new director, George Culler, as fundamentally hostile to the concerns motivating most contemporary work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Juxtaposing two recent shows at the museum, “Art of the Bay Area” and “Art of Brazil,” Martin questioned the museum’s assumption that modern artists in all parts of the world could be interesting only to the degree that they worked on problems highlighted in Paris before 1940 or in New York afterward. The museum’s staff had reinforced a division of the world into peripheries and centers. The work of the Brazilian painters selected for the show fit comfortably into metropolitan ideas of the tropics. The companion show revealed that a similar process was well under way with California art, whose lively local art scenes had only recently captured the attention of New York galleries and museums. The museum favored work, Martin thought, that repack-

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