Reading California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000

Reading California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000

by Stephanie Barron
     
 

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This companion volume to the exhibition Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art offers nineteen in-depth, illustrated essays on the making of California culture in the twentieth century. Written by an impressive array of art historians and scholars in the humanities, these essays look closely at the forces that…  See more details below

Overview

This companion volume to the exhibition Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art offers nineteen in-depth, illustrated essays on the making of California culture in the twentieth century. Written by an impressive array of art historians and scholars in the humanities, these essays look closely at the forces that have shaped fine art and popular culture in California. The contributors weave their subjects around themes central to the milestone exhibition: the California landscape, including both natural and built environments; the state's complex interaction with Latin America and Asia; and the dynamic relationship between the arts and popular conceptions of California. The essays implicitly offer responses to the key questions that inform the exhibition: Which California? and Whose California?

Divided into three broad categories -- historical background, art history and popular culture, and politics and identity -- these provocative essays cover topics such as counterculture architecture, the Watts Towers, border culture, gender issues, the role of schools in California art, auto tourism, Hollywood, music, Beat culture, politics, literature, photography, and much more. Accessibly written and intellectually engaging, the essays bring together many diverse yet interrelated aspects of the state's art and culture and sharpen our understanding of California in the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

San Diego Union-Tribune
"The stimulating essays in Reading California provide both a broad and detailed look at the nature of California art-from painting, photography and film to literature and the counterculture music that so ignited the 1960s.
Library Journal
One of the most ambitious art shows the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has ever mounted, the recent "Made in California: Art, Image and Identity 1900-2000" came with all the marketing trimmings, such as mugs, mouse pads, and a music CD (predictably containing tracks like "Valley Girl" and "California Dreamin' "). The two books that accompany the exhibition stand out, however, as especially edifying adornments to the marquee. Each book in its own way addresses the question, "What contribution has California made to the world's visual culture in the last 100 years?" The catalog presents more than 500 illustrations documenting the largest art exhibition ever mounted surveying California art and culture, a show comprising over 1200 examples of art and ephemera in a wide range of media. Opening with the words "Which California? Whose California?" the book demonstrates that the Golden State's image is of a contested Eden. Apart from being the capital of the film and television industries (a fact underemphasized in this catalog), the state has become identified with several iconographic threads that are herein extensively and entertainingly illustrated. The exhibition has come under blistering criticism for ignoring aesthetic considerations while epitomizing a trend among curators to blur the boundaries between artworks and historical artifacts. While at times this tendency results in the sublime sitting next to the ridiculous (e.g., a Frida Kahlo masterpiece shares space with a 1940s model wearing a sombrero-themed swimsuit), we also see outstanding art within a historic and geographic context from which it ordinarily is quite divorced. Also, a show this size inevitably exposes the works of lesser-known artists. Thus, along with the de rigueur Diebenkorns and Ansel Adams, we are treated to the work of countless other, lesser-known artists such as John Marshall Gamble and Enrique Chagoya, to name two separated by almost a century. Reading California collects 19 scholars' descriptions of different aspects of California's cultural identity, viewing each as elements of larger mythical notions of the state. The individual authors cover a broad range of topics, from the birth of auto tourism to "Beat Art." Most interesting are an essay by state librarian Kevin Starr describing the seminal influence of Angelino historian Carey McWilliams upon the state's self-image, a telling analysis of the important role played by art schools in fostering culture, and Peter Selz's succinct study of West Coast political art. This erudite composite history is recommended for academic and large public libraries; the fine catalog to this important exhibition is highly recommended for all collections. Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780520227675
Publisher:
University of California Press
Publication date:
01/15/2001
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
415
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.13(d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Barron is Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Vice President of Education and Public Programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Sheri Bernstein is Exhibition Associate. Ilene Susan Fort is Curator of American Art. Howard N. Fox is Curator of Contemporary Art. Michael Dear is Director of the University of Southern California's Southern California Studies Center and author most recently of The Postmodern Urban Condition (2000). Richard Rodriguez is author of Days of Obligation (1992) and Hunger of Memory (1982), and is a frequent contributor to Harper's, The New York Times,and The News Hour on PBS.

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