New York

“California Realists”

Los Angeles doesn't keep its junk, it throws it into trash compactors and makes land fills or ocean sewage. The man-made things are new, shiny plastic and clean, not at all unlike the “new” Texas. San Franciscans look down upon all this, but get a kick out of the automobiles, tackiness, and technology. It's this perverse love/hate which turns “California Realists” (John Berggruen Gallery) into such a popular show. It's another example of the misguided idea of an idea for an exhibition. Please read “Los Angeles” for “California,” so we laugh at the excesses and still relate to the pleasure. Unlike Texas and “Poets of the Cities,” there are no gems to compensate for the mass of sleek, vapid images produced as nonutilitarian furniture for banks and law offices. There is no reason to argue with the show's many admirers about the “subtle” differences between “realism” and “realist” or the reasons why one must use techniques with integrity. The stuff is an easy mark but useless to condemn—punching jello with your fist can do damage but it's not worth the sticky hand. This hybrid photo-Realist/Impressionistic Pop breeds all kinds of glossy out-of-focus images that might as well be manufactured like billboards. Why go through the trouble of painting them at this point in history? Even Wayne Thiebaud, who occasionally gives one pleasure in his nonchalant icing impasto, goes down in this company. It's spineless painting, pointless decoration.

San Franciscans enjoy themselves. Peter Plagens rightly noted (Artforum, September, 1974) that San Franciscans' disinterest in contemporary art owes itself to “a combination of wondrous scenery (the most beautiful setting of any city in the world), and a taste for adjunct gingerbread architecture, antiques, salon paintings, and bric-a-brac.” True, they are not interested in complex depths or the sweep of history and find those who are pretentious and difficult; yet they are offended if one accuses them of superficiality (a trait monopolized by LA-ers.) This is the city which is currently going through a crisis in its schools, where all extracurricular activities are not being funded, but the only activity that the populace raises a fuss about and additional money for is sports. This money will pay the overtime for basketball coaches, while the fact that music, art, and drama teachers have gone without extra pay for their afterhour labors for years is disregarded.

Jeff Perrone