Critics’ Picks

Bonnie Sherk, Portable Park II, 1970. Performance view.

Bonnie Sherk, Portable Park II, 1970. Performance view.


“State of Mind”

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
2155 Center Street
February 29–June 17, 2012

There are perpetual rumblings about ballot initiatives to split California in half, somewhere in the middle of this vast landmass. It’s exactly the kind of crackpot idea or pipe-dream hyperbole that makes the Golden State (and its residents) so appealing. “State of Mind” is the only exhibition of the Getty-sponsored, Los Angeles-centric “Pacific Standard Time” lot to migrate north, and it serves the vital function of expanding the program’s geographic purview to include NorCal artists. Perhaps even more important is that it demonstrates (as the title asserts) that there is indeed a broader mindset in this part of the country. Curators Constance M. Lewallen and Karen Moss note the inadequacy of any codified regional aesthetic, yet they use a tight historical window—in and around 1970—to illustrate California’s unique confluence of conditions: youth culture, political activism, feminism, a focus on the body, film, and the freeing sense that, at the time, no one bought art here.

The exhibition focuses primarily on Conceptual practices, which had a more whimsical and confrontational flavor here than East Coast brands did. John Baldessari’s California Map Project Part 1, 1969/2009, serves as an emblematic work, both crunchy and smart, in that it literally surveys the entire state: For the work Baldessari made giant letters (out of rocks, paint, and sand) on the landscape where they fell on a printed map. The show also wisely includes well-chosen works by not quite as iconic but equally notable artists: James Melchert, Gary Beydler, Stephen Kaltenbach, Bonnie Sherk, and pranksterish collectives like Asco and Sam’s Café give the show its real cerebral kick.

With its numerous videos, slide shows, and films displayed alongside ephemera, performance documentation, installations, and reconstructed sculptural works, “State” makes a case for California’s enduring influence on contemporary art, particularly social and relational practices. Forty years ago artworks taking the form of urban farms (Sherk), flash mob activism (collectively Joe Hawley, Mel Henderson, and Alfred Young), lengthy walks (Bas Jan Ader), and performative occupation of space (Lynn Hershman Leeson, Allen Ruppersberg, Linda Mary Montano) existed on the margins, but as the show demonstrates, these West Coast impulses were way ahead of their time.