To suggest that the legacy of California Conceptual artists in the 1960s and ’70s is an ongoing influence in the art world would be a gross understatement. The canon of work produced during this time—a time of great political volatility, experimentation, and radical thinking—is huge, and a list of those affiliated with the movement reads like a roster of game-changing 20th century artists. Status-quo challengers like Paul McCarthy, Martha Rosler, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, and Chris Burden all developed their practices in the temperate, free-spirited atmosphere of a time and place that has since reached mythical status.
The idea of myth looms large in State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, part of the Getty Foundation’s “Pacific Standard Time” series, which made its East Coast debut last week at the Bronx Museum. The 60 artists with pieces in the show break ground in several important arenas of modern art: performance, sound, artist’s books and publications, early video, and site-specific installation, to name a few. The expansive exhibition is split into sections, which have been curated to encompass overarching themes, including protest, mapping, and the body.
What is striking about the exhibition is the palpable lack of pretension in the work. Though many artists in the show would go on to achieve lucrative and staggering success, the grittiness of Bruce Nauman’s low-quality videos of himself performing simple actions in his San Francisco studio, the original price tag on Ed Ruscha’s small-edition artist’s books ($5!) and the rough, sometimes law-bending performance and documentation of Lynn Hershman’s Dante Hotel make it clear that artists working at this time were coming from a place of innovative, DIY pragmatism—flush with a spirit of collaboration. Many of the performative works featured—including Chris Burden’s Shoot, in which the artist had a friend shoot him in the arm, or Allen Ruppersberg’s Al’s Grand Hotel, a piece in which Ruppersberg opened a temporary hotel with thematic rooms that could be rented nightly—involve ideas of alternative spaces and collaborative artmaking. Perhaps it is this honesty, rawness, and genuine ingenuity that makes State of Mind seem at once current and particular. The show is a portal into a time of boundless possibilities and creative opportunities, and the spirit is infectious.
STATE OF MIND: NEW CALIFORNIA ART CIRCA 1970 IS ON SHOW AT THE BRONX MUSEUM, ITS ONLY EAST COAST VENUE, THROUGH SEPTEMBER 8.