Art Buzz January 20, 2012: ‘L.A. Raw’ offers a dark slice of art history at the Pasadena Museum of California Art



‘L.A. Raw’ offers a dark slice of art history in Pasadena

Source: Pasadena Star-News, 1-20-12

“My Lai,” assemblage painting with skulls, by Hans Burkhardt, Courtesy of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts. (Courtesy of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts)

The heyday of the Los Angeles art scene is often thought to be centered around the Ferus Gallery and its contingent of pop and abstract artists in the 1960s.

There was a dark side; the art often was obsessed with political and social issues.

Curator Michael Duncan assembled works that illustrate the light and the dark in “L.A. Raw: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The exhibit opens Sunday and is part of the Getty Foundation’s ongoing initiative “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.”

Duncan is the corresponding editor for “Art in America” and an art writer. He previously curated “Post Surrealism” at PMCA.

“Deposition (Descent from the Cross,” fiberglass sculpture, by Jack Zajac. (Pasadena Museum of California Art)

“What I’m excited about is this show is tracking a different history for the art depicting human needs of today,” Duncan said. “I think that art history has all sorts of different pathways and this is a fresh one that really hasn’t been explored.”

“L.A. Raw” begins with a look at the post-World War II artists around Rick Lebrun. Lebrun taught at the Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles, emphasizing figure drawing. His own work had ties to European traditions and influences from the Spanish romantic painter Goya, as well as Mexican muralists.

“He wanted to extend the techniques of the Renaissance and also of cubism and make it more like a sculptural rendition,” Duncan said. “That’s where the expressionism comes in: wanting to turn a two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional idea of the human body.”

The show tracks Lebrun and his followers and how their work leads to the political art of the ’60s, branching out through artists of different ethnicities and on to the emergence of feminist and performance art.

The selection process for “L.A. Raw” was tough. For example, Masonite painter Jan Stussy taught at UCLA for 35 years and was a respected artist in the 1960s. His entire life’s work is about 2,000 pieces; Duncan chose four for the exhibit.

“The art world is very fickle and unless you have powerful galleries behind you, you just get sent to storage units in Burbank,” Duncan said.

“The basic message of the show is very simple: Expressionism is a kind of art form that never goes away,” he said. “Abstraction and other art movements may come in and out of vogue, but the expression of the human condition is a through-line that you can find since the Renaissance. And it’s here in L.A.”


Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy

Opens Sunday . Noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through May 20

Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena



Opening reception

7-10 p.m. Sunday $5 admission.

“L.A. Raw” features more than 120 works by more than 40 artists. The media ranges from paintings and sculpture to videos and photography. Highlights include Hans Burkhardt’s 12-foot wide painting, “My Lai,” which bears a scattering of real human skulls affixed to the canvas to sharpen the artist’s anti-Vietnam War message.

“Some critics have referred to it as the most powerful anti-war statement ever made by an artist,” Duncan said.

The Ceeje Gallery is represented by Armenian artist Charles Garabedian and Chicano artists Roberto Chavez and Eduardo Carillo, who incorporated humor and references to art history into their work. There are also early paintings and videos of performance artist Paul McCarthy, along with footage of Chris Burden and Nancy Buchanan.

L.A. Raw “is a dark vision of mankind, but it’s a very powerful and meaningful work,” Duncan said. “It’s not a frivolous day at the beach.”

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