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Project Gathers First-Person Accounts of Pop Art, Performance Art, and Other Seminal Movements

September 12, 2006

LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles came into its own as an international center of creative energy and innovation after World War II, attracting artists from all over the world.   The vibrant postwar art community included artists Ed Ruscha and Fred Hammersley, curators Henry Hopkins and Walter Hopps, gallerists Irving Blum, Patricia Faure and Everett Ellin and Stanley Grinstein, collector and co-founder of the pioneering publisher and print workshop Gemini/GEL.  They, among others, have participated in “On the Record: Art in LA 1945-1980,” a joint project by the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Foundation to collect oral histories and preserve materials from the era.

The Getty stepped in when it realized this was a history that was quickly disappearing.  “Many of the key figures were getting up in years, their papers were being dispersed, and few institutions seemed to have adequate resources to preserve what records they had,”  says Joan Weinstein, interim director of the Getty Foundation.   The Foundation funded a major survey of archival holdings in public and private collections, which located a wealth of material on the postwar avant-garde, but also determined that the historic record of the era was often inaccessible to scholars and in some cases in danger of being destroyed.  The Foundation then awarded grants to libraries, archives, and museums with important collections, including the LA County Museum of Art, UCLA, and Art Center College of Design, to begin to catalog their holdings, and the Research Institute began capturing the voices of the era in first-person interviews.

The oral histories were not just for the benefit of historians.  The public was invited to participate in a series of conversations about the emergence of Los Angeles as an international art center.  The series began with a discussion with Hammersley, Hopps, Hopkins, and LACMA curator James Byrnes, and will continue with examinations of feminist art in Southern California, “light and space” art, and other facets of postwar art in Los Angeles.   

“On the Record” also encompasses other neglected aspects of Los Angeles’ rich artistic history. A Foundation grant to the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA is funding a survey of Latino art in Southern California since the 1960s, when the civil rights era spawned an art of social protest and cultural identity.
From Los Four, the first Chicano artists to be given an exhibition at LACMA in 1974, to the guerilla conceptual group Asco, to the public art of East Los Streetscapers, the historical record of Latino art collectives, community-based arts organizations, and alternative publications was also dispersed and inaccessible to scholars.  The UCLA Center is gathering this material, and is also conducting oral histories from the Chicano rights movement.   

As a result of “On the Record,” significant collections have come to the Getty Research Institute, including the extensive holdings of video from the Long Beach Museum of Art, the archives of High Performance Magazine, the papers of Henry Hopkins, and the photographs of Charles Brittin. 

“Once the Getty demonstrated its commitment to this period of L.A. history, people had confidence in our ability to preserve this historical record and make it available to scholars and the general public,” says Andrew Perchuk, assistant director of the Research Institute and head of its contemporary programs and research department.
Eventually, the Getty plans to work with other arts institutions throughout Los Angeles to jump-start new research and to make this material available to new audiences through exhibitions and publications.

"Europeans have long recognized that one of the most significant episodes in modern art history has taken place at the doorstep of the Getty--where it continues with full force,” says Thomas Crow, director of the Research Institute.  “American institutions have been slower to grasp this fact.  The mission that we have undertaken at the Getty Research Institute is to capture the best possible archival record of the LA art scene and make it accessible to the researchers who come to us from all over the world."

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Julie Jaskol
Getty Communications

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