June 10, 2014

Helen Pashgian sanding a polyester disc during her artist resindency at Caltech circa 1971. © Helen Pashgian
Helen Pashgian uses industrial materials such as polyester, epoxy, and acrylic plastics to create sculptures and installations that explore light and perception. Many of her early works were intimately scaled, translucent objects featuring delicate colors and precisely finished surfaces. As the viewer moves around them, the perception of these works shifts; they seem at times to be solid forms and at others to be dissolving into space. Since surface finish is crucial to these qualities, Pashgian has a very low tolerance for any sign of damage of her artwork. Her view that, "if there is a scratch on the surface, that's all you see," has important implications for the conservation of her works.

A screening of the short documentary Helen Pashgian: Transcending the Material was followed by a conversation with GCI scientist Rachel Rivenc and Helen Pashgian talking about Pashgian's artwork, materials, and processes, as well as her thoughts on conservation. They were joined by LACMA curator Carol Eliel.

About the Panel

Carol S. Eliel is curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she has worked since 1984. Most recently she curated the exhibitions Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible and John Altoon. From 2011-13 she served as President of the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) of which she is now a lifetime trustee.

Helen Pashgian was born in Pasadena and completed her undergraduate work at Pomona College before heading to Boston University for her master’s degree. She returned to the Los Angeles area in the 1960s and joined a number of artists in exploring the artistic possibilities of industrial materials, such as plastics and resins. Today she is credited as one of the pioneers of the Light and Space movement.

Rachel Rivenc is an assistant scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute and leads Art in L.A., a research project to study the materials and fabrication processes used by Los Angeles-based artists since the 1950s and the implications these materials and processes have for conservation. The book based on her PhD dissertation Made in Los Angeles: Materials, Processes and the Birth of West Coast Minimalism will be available from Getty Publications in 2015.

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