Critics’ Picks

David Hammons, America the Beautiful, 1968, lithograph and body print, 39 x 29 1/2".

David Hammons, America the Beautiful, 1968, lithograph and body print, 39 x 29 1/2".

New York

“Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980”

22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
October 1, 2012–February 19, 2013

Originally presented at the Hammer Museum as part of “Pacific Standard Time,” this illuminating exhibition telescopes in on African-American artists working in Southern California during these particularly formative decades for art and social reform. Of the thirty-five artists included, the checklist includes denizens such as David Hammons, Betye Saar, and John Outterbridge, among a larger contingent of artists that have had little to no exposure in a museum context. The artwork is presented with elegant spaciousness, loosely organized in a succession of smallish galleries to reflect key contextual meditations: the proliferation of assemblage, the affects of Conceptual and post-Minimal thought, and spheres of influence and concern (personal, aesthetic, and sociopolitical), which are here coterminous with those of feminist, antiwar, and Mexican-American and Chicano artists. ‬

Though articulated across a diverse range of media and styles, the works are unilaterally suffused with potent social messages. From the graphic realism of Charles White to Ulysses Jenkins’s waggish video performances, this art takes up themes relating to identity, freedom, activism, and religion, and responds to experiences of marginalization and violence—historical and contemporary—as well as to environmental and economic concerns, and critiques of post-Fordist society. Figures such as Charles Gaines advanced conceptual practices, while ephemeral modes of production like dance and performance were embraced by Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger—marking a departure from the social realism and lyric figuration of prominent black artists in the 1950s and early ’60s.

Special attention is paid to the social backdrop of this work, and in particular to the relationship between local art communities and the wider Los Angeles scene. That many artists were working in an expanded, interracial field is illustrated, somewhat adjunctly, with an installation of works by artists including Mark di Suvero and Andrew Zermeño. Archival material and ephemera offer details about the infrastructure that developed to foster black artists, indexing the extent to which these artists were included and excluded from mainstream representation. These documents—and, more important, these artworks—generate a paradigmatic and historiographical shift to how the story of postwar art in Los Angeles unfolds.