Recently I found two exhibits (one current, one recently closed) at the L.A. County Museum of Art particularly exciting. Both were a mesh of design and technology. Both spoke to something that I, at least, feel is essentially Californian.
The first is the mounting of Chris Burdens Metropolis II. If you remember Red Groom’s Ruckus Manhattan, first exhibited in 1975, you could think of Metropolis II as a kind of L.A version of that celebrated work. I say “kind of” because the two installations are very different, much as L.A. and New York are entirely different. Ruckus was all about street life, the signature experience of Manhattan. Metropolis II is all about toy cars and model trains racing in and out of a huge cityscape. Using conveyor belts and gravity to propel massive flows traffic on toy car freeways, it is full of the movement and noise of transportation. To me, it speaks of both the excitement and frustrations of our active, sprawling, rushing megapolis — one side of Southern California.
The other exhibit — California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way — spoke to another aspect of the Southland. In the decade before and two decades after the Second World War, California artists, designers and architects remade what it meant for a middle class family to live in the modern world. This exhibit showed some of the products of their work. Others like the Bauhaus movement in inter-war Weimar Germany and Frank Lloyd Wright in this country had used modern industrial materials and simplified forms to create homes, furniture and the various accompaniments of daily life. But the exhibit showed that here in California the results were more joyful, more democratic and, to me at least, so more exciting than anything that came before.
By the way, the museum website (www.lacma.org) has a terrific collection of videos, most of them interviews with artists. Together they are almost as good as a visit to the museum itself. Almost… but not quite.