Helene Winer


William Wegman's untitled photographs of Helene Winer in his San Pedro studio with still life props from the California State University, Long Beach, art department, 1970. Courtesy of Helene Winer.

From 1970 to 1972, Helene Winer directed the Pomona College Museum of Art, organizing Jack Goldstein’s and William Wegman’s first solo shows, among other important exhibitions. With Janelle Reiring, Winer opened Metro Pictures gallery in 1980. “It Happened at Pomona: Part Two, Helene Winer at Pomona” is the second exhibition in a series of three about the museum; the first illuminated Hal Glicksman’s curatorial work in the late 1960s. The show, sponsored in part by the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time” initiative, closes on February 19.

FOR THE EXHIBITIONS AT POMONA, I was primarily looking for new work that reflected my own interest in the Conceptual art I had become acquainted with while living in London, where I was assistant director of Whitechapel Gallery. Before leaving Los Angeles and after two years as a curatorial assistant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I was most familiar with the generation of artists now identified as being part of Light and Space, or Cool School, as well as with the concurrent, funky assemblage works of the Topanga artists: George Herms, Wallace Berman, and Ed Kienholz. The subsequent generation of artists I showed at Pomona included Allen Ruppersberg, William Leavitt, and Bas Jan Ader, along with John Baldessari and the artists and students associated with him at CalArts, like Jack Goldstein and Wolfgang Stoerchle, and others such as Chris Burden and William Wegman. But I also curated shows with Joe Goode’s staircases and John McCracken’s wall planks, which represented to me the preceding artists whose work I remained attached to.

There is an element present in all of their works that became indicative of a hybrid Los Angeles Conceptualism that made use of prominent and quirky visual material, theatricality, and humor. These artists strayed from the tightly scripted parameters of the New York Conceptualists, and without declaration they adapted the intellectual and cultural environment of the area.

There isn’t another art center that has a more exaggerated fictional identity and seductive romanticized environment than Los Angeles. Ed Ruscha in many ways exemplifies the direction that subsequent artists would take. His treatment of text as graphic design on neutral-surfaced paintings, in addition to his books, photographs, and films—combined with his glamorous persona—lent attitude and stance to the image of an artist, one decidedly not from New York or Europe. In an interesting evolutionary path, Ruscha’s artist persona along with Billy Al Bengston’s and Larry Bell’s, contributed to the expanded vocabulary of the Conceptual artists who came after.

Recent discussions generated by “Pacific Standard Time” have focused on the Light and Space artists, who supposedly drew from new materials of the local aerospace industry and car culture, as well as the city’s characteristic luminosity and environment. At the same time, there is little made of the intellectual presence of writers—European postwar immigrants, authors, detective writers, the technical expertise of the film and television communities. This aspect of the city contributed to the more entertaining Conceptualism of the artists I worked with and it aligns with my own experience of growing up there. My most memorable childhood outings involved visits to Western movie towns open to the public, convincing my parents to drive to Culver City studios to look for the enormous painted skies used as film backdrops, or parking alongside the El Segundo dunes to watch Ben Hur’s chariot races being filmed. In fact, I scheduled an exhibition at Pomona of California landscape painters from the 1920s, all of whom had jobs painting backdrops for Hollywood studios. The announcement card showed just that.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler