AS ALL THE WORLD KNOWS — especially that part of the world that runs from the eastern borders of San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial Counties to the Pacific Ocean, and from the northern borders of San Luis Obispo and Kern Counties to the Mexican border — the Getty Center has encouraged, facilitated, and funded to the tune of $10 million a vast exhibition project entitled "Pacific Standard Time." It consists of about 70 exhibitions at not-for profit venues, and a passel of commercial gallery shows aiming to recapitulate the history of Los Angeles art from 1945 to 1980. They started rolling out in late September and will continue opening for the next five months or so. Most of the institutional exhibitions boast their own catalogues (except, oddly, the Getty Museum's own greatest-hits exhibition), so the aggregate literature from the endeavor might seem a little fragmented, sprawling — much like Los Angeles itself.
But there is an overview book published by the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Museum: a big, silver, coffee-table hardback, Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art 1945-1980. (My slim book, Sunshine Muse: Contemporary Art on the West Coast, published by Praeger in 1974, is what the current Getty volume intends — and with good reason — to obsolesce. Suffice it to say that, although I'm probably inordinately fond of my own bouncy youthful prose, there's nothing covered in Sunshine Muse that isn't in Pacific Standard Time, and there's plenty in the Getty book that didn't make the cut in Sunshine Muse.) Although the volume has only five chapters, they're long and inclusive, buttressed by no fewer than 31 "sidebars" on such topics as the Case Study houses, gay "physique" photography, the great artists' fabricator Jack Brogan, and "Hermann Nitsch Visits Los Angeles." The number of authors approaches a couple dozen, and the total word count must flirt with six figures.
So if you're only going to purchase one guide to the art within the PST purview this century, let it be the Getty catalogue. (In this essay, Pacific Standard Time in italics refers to the book under review, while PST indicates the entire exhibition project.) I'd also advise (with some reservations) sitting down and reading the bloody thing all the way through before, over the next half-year, you suffer all that traffic and put all those extra miles on your car trying to see all those PST shows from Santa Barbara to San Diego. It's always good to know the route the art took to get to the exhibition, too.
The bottom-line reason for the whole PST undertaking, and especially for the Pacific Standard Time tome, is a basic art-historical correction. According to the book's preface, California art has been "overshadowed by New York-centric views of modernism ... [P]ostwar American art history is fundamentally different when told from a West Coast perspective, and it is time for that history to be told." In his review of the book, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight chimes in, insisting that "[a]nyone who thinks that major postwar American art must begin with practitioners of Abstract Expressionism will never understand art history or L.A.'s art."
Let's throw in a couple of small rebuttals here: First, a "West Coast perspective" on postwar American art history isn't objective truth; it's just countervailing bias coming from the West Coast instead o...