los-angeles

John Altoon, Ocean Park Series #12, 1962, oil on canvas, 81 3/8 × 84". From “Ocean Park Series,” 1962.

John Altoon

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

John Altoon, Ocean Park Series #12, 1962, oil on canvas, 81 3/8 × 84". From “Ocean Park Series,” 1962.

Bare-chested on the dust jacket of The Holy BarbariansLawrence Lipton’s classic account of the Beat scene around Venice Beach, ca. 1959—John Altoon was cast as a ruffian, a role that stuck. His life was no doubt the stuff of legend, from his Hollywood marriages to his death from a heart attack at a party in 1969 at the age of forty-three—to say nothing of the mental hospitals or his antics in the company of Edward Kienholz, Robert Irwin, Billy Al Bengston, and other Ferus Gallery “Studs” in between. But to promulgate the glib cultural ethnography such details suggest is to disregard the work Altoon produced in just a decade of active engagement, from the late ’50s until his death. Although Altoon’s work has increasingly been exhibited in recent years, especially since a 1997 survey mounted at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, this traveling retrospective,

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