Debra Leitner is a contributor to Laguna Art Magazine, if interested, please download the pdf to read the full article. Thank you.
Spring 2014 • Laguna Art Magazine
The Bowers offers a glimpse into rarely seen Chinatowns
Orange County Museum of Art
The Avant-Garde Collection (Exhibition Sept. 7 to Jan. 14)
In the land of warm golden sunshine, majestic palm trees, azure blue ocean and crystal, clear skies, I am standing in the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) looking at ……what is this?…..A long thin, old dingy bathtub with a damaged radio on top of the tub. Inside of the tub is a pile of trash on which a working radio speaker is blaring an indistinct blend of sounds. In place of a showerhead, there is an old lamp and a hunk of matted fur. This is ugly, even repulsive and I want to just walk right by and go on to the next art piece. But, I don’t. I linger and I notice old black and white photographs positioned in a cross pattern on the plastic top of the tub. In one photograph, a German soldier is drinking at a dinner party. Another photograph catches the soldier as he is eyeing a woman walking in the distance. The third photo shows the soldier observing artillery tanks. Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz constructed this assemblage entitled, End of the Bucket of Tar with Speaker Trail No. 2 in 1974. Kienholz found the tub in Germany as he perused flea markets and junk shops. The tub possibly belonged to an embalmer and Kienholz used the tub as the basis to conjure his concentration camp image, which is further reinforced by the German military photographs. Like it or not, this is part of our past as members of the human race.
The Kienholzs and other artists from the 1970’s Nam June Pak, Andy Warhol and William Wegman wanted to create art that didn’t look like art. As art critic, David Hickey, states, “Abstract expressionism, pop and minimalism had their day. It was time for something new. Something conceptual, something post –minimalist, something fearlessly feminist or all of the above as long as it couldn’t be easily labeled or commoditized.”
End of the Bucket of Tar with Speaker Trail No. 2 is part of the Orange County Museum of Art’s, The Avant-Garde Collection, which will exhibit September 7th through January 14th. Chief Curator, Dan Cameron, will trace the museum’s acquisitions across five decades with the specific focus on the evolving definition of avant-garde during that period.
Far less challenging than Kienholtz’s End of the Bucket of Tar, is Stanton Macdonald -Wright’s UNTITLED (Vase of Flowers) painted in 1924-25. Macdonald-Wright was head of the Los Angele Student Art League when he painted this vase of flowers. Although the image of flowers in deep, rich hues of yellow, pink, orange and blue in a white vase is distinguishable, the prisms of white, blue, purple, brown and black color surrounding the flower arrangement is closer to the abstract, color saturated canvases Macdonald-Wright painted between 1913 and 1920. During those early years, Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell developed Synchronism. According to Norma J Roberts, author of The American Collections, Wright and Russell believed that painting was like music and should be made of pure colors, devoid of representational association. Synchronism was the first American Avant-Garde art movement to receive international attention.
The 1940’s 50’s and 60’s ushered in Abstract Expressionism, Hard Edge, Bay Area Figurative, Neo-Dada, Pop Art, Lyrical Abstraction, Tachisme, Outsider Art and other movements. Artists from the first of these decades represented in the Avant- Garde Collection include, Emil James Bisttram and Oscar Fischinger.
Important figures from the 1950’s included in the exhibition are Jay DeFeo, Lorser Feitelson (considered the founder of Hard Edge), Lee Mullican and David Park (know for Bay Area Figurative). These artists and many others made important contributions to the development of the American avant-garde art. However, if pressed to choose only one artist from the era to discuss, my choice would be Jay Defeo who is represented by two works in this exhibition. The first, painted in 1951, is an untitled tempera on brown paper. The second, a gouache completed in 1952, is from her “Florence” series. Both abstracts are painted in a subdued, monochromatic palette of gray, black, white and tan. While Macdonald-Wright was concerned with color, texture was much more important to Defeo. Her work is basically about the thickness and thinness and texture of paint. Defeo blurs the line between painting and sculpture, which is most apparent in a major work, she called The Rose. The Rose is 12 foot tall painting Defeo labored on for eight years. She would apply pigment, scrape it off and reapply until the surface took on the appearance of a sculptural relief.
By the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, artists had begun to react against the subjectivism of abstract expressionism. More than ever before, artists experimented with new styles, forms and materials. Advertising and commercial culture dominated American life with billboards, radio, television, newspaper and magazine advertising. While some artists appropriated imagery from consumer culture, other artists rejected it. Movements such as Pop art, Minimalism and Conceptual art movements emerged in the 1960’s as artists reacted to their modern environments.
Among the many artists featured from that decade are Josef Albers, Craig Kauffman, Louise Nevelson, and Ed Ruscha. One example of a work from this group, Craig Kauffmann’s Untitled vacuum-formed Plexiglas wall relief was constructed in 1968. A cylindrical, pill shaped Plexiglas form is adhered to a rectangular background. Kauffmann used sprayed color and minimalistic shapes to achieve a distinctive luminous presence. Kauffmann’s art has been described as a seductive strain of minimalism, pop abstraction and finish fetish. Just as Jay Defoe was concerned with texture, Kauffmann was concerned with materials and finish and was fond of shiny, slick, glossy surfaces suggestive of surfboard finishes and Southern California’s sunshine and car culture. Along with other Los Angeles artists, Ed Moses, Ron Davis and Ron Cooper utilized poured resin, polyester resin and other forms of plastic, while employing techniques derived from car industry.
The Fall issue of Laguna Art Magazine will touch upon the Avant-Garde Collection exhibit from the 80’s and 90’s through the current decade. For lovers of contemporary art, visiting the exhibition will be like visiting good friends you haven’t seen for a long time. You had forgotten how they made you smile or made you think or even made you angry! If you know nothing about contemporary art, this is your opportunity to have an intensive, crash course in art history. Chief Curator Dan Cameron and Curatorial Associate, Fatima Manalili will curate the art by decade and movement so that you can enjoy witnessing the transition.
Last year, worldwide auction sales of postwar and contemporary art climbed to a historic peak of $6.8 billion, according to the 2014 Art Market Report by the European Fine Art Foundation. If you haven’t visited the Orange County Museum of Contemporary Art in a while, now is the time.