OPENING RECEPTION: SATURDAY, MAY 17TH, 2014 7-9pm
Kayne Griffin Corcoran is pleased to present Surface to Air: Los Angeles Artists of the ‘60s,
curated by Robert Dean. This exhibition devotes itself to artists working in Los Angeles in
the 1960s who shared certain commonalities in their use of materials and fabrication
techniques that, for the most part, were specific to the environs of Southern California.
Artists include Peter Alexander, Hobie Alter, Kenneth Anger, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston,
Judy Chicago, Ron Cooper, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken,
Ken Price, Ed Roth and Ed Ruscha.
The ‘60s Los Angeles culture of surf, sun and space brought with it the influence of new
technologies, grasped by these artists as fresh resources to approach questions of
process, form, and finish. In the late ‘60s John Coplans applied the moniker “finish fetish”
to these particular artists and in some ways it is an appropriate appellation—if we limit
ourselves to discussions of this use of materials and techniques as a means to an end.
However, this term is just as misleading as it is helpful, and like most terms applied to
groups of artists by critics eager to discover new trends, the artists themselves have
generally abhorred it. Still, all painting is surface, so Coplans may have a point when
considering these surfaces of nonillusory condition. We are considering for the most part
artists who had created objects that exist primarily as objects—and some crafting
objects that have a sense of nonmateriality.
In bringing these artists together, Surface to Air will examine not only the similarities
between their work, but also the consequential divergence from one another in their
practice—both because of, and in spite of, the nature of their shared context. While
artists such as Billy Al Bengston and John McCracken celebrated the surface of objects,
others—Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, and to a large degree Peter Alexander
and Ron Cooper—were interested in the interplay of light, optics, color and transparency
within the object. Ron Davis riffed on his own brand of abstract expressionism and color
field painting, and Ken Price obsessed over the geometry of skin articulated in his distinct
blocks of color. Bengston and Judy Chicago employed recognizable motifs and patterning
that often related to motorcycles and hot rods, and in their fascination with surface
polish McCracken’s planks and Kauffman’s pinstriped vacuum-formed plastics recall
surfboards. Kauffman also produced images of an abstract geometry and later explored
issues of translucence, fabricating with a precision objects that were inspired in part by
the work of László Moholy-Nagy. Meanwhile Irwin attempted, after an endeavor into
abstract pointillism, the pursuit of no imagery; no illusion at all. Rather, this work became
about the perception of an object in light and space whose significance was divided
equally between the object itself and the light and shadows it would cast.
This context, and indeed the artwork being produced by these artists, may be contrasted
within the broader throes of East Coast Pop Art and Minimalism occurring at the same
time. Drawing this comparison, Robert Irwin stated, “We saw it and they didn’t. They
relied on conception while we worked in the domain of perception. Without any vast
backdrop of history to support our investigations, we just had to rely on our eyes.” (Irwin
quoted in Weschler, Lawrence, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing, p. 78).
To further reflect upon the immediate cultural background that these artists drew upon,
the exhibition will include antecedent ‘folk’ objects and materials. “As far as I’m
concerned,” says Irwin, “a folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use
everyday, and you give it overlays of your own personality, what it is you feel and so forth.
You enhance it with your life.” He continues, “a folk art in the current period of time
would more appropriately be in the area of something like a motorcycle. I mean, a
motorcycle can be a lot more than just a machine that runs along: it can be a whole
description of a personality and an aesthetic.” (Ibid, p. 17). With this in mind, included
will be objects such as a custom car designed by Ed Roth and a vintage surfboard by
Hobie Alter. Also included are films by Ed Ruscha (Miracle, 1975) and Kenneth Anger
(Kustom Kar Kommandos, 1965).
Robert Dean is editor of the Edward Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and author
of several other publications.