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Under The Big Black Sun @ The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

  |   2012

UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN
CALIFORNIA ART 1974-1981
10.01.11 – 02.13.12

Celebrating California as a turbulent, often anarchic center for artistic freedom and experimentation during the 1970s, this major survey exhibition examines the rise of pluralistic art practices across the state. The years 1974 and 1981 bracket a tumultuous, transitional span in United States history, beginning with Richard Nixon’s resignation and ending with Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. The exhibition borrows its title from the 1982 album by the Los Angeles–based punk band X to suggest that, during this period, the California Dream and the hippie optimism of the late 1960s had been eclipsed by a sense of disillusionment during the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam era.

The dystopian atmosphere of the 1970s created an artistic milieu that seemed to include everything under the sun. Across the state, competing social and political ideologies and clashing cultural perspectives resulted in heterodox approaches to art-making. The spirit of questioning and experimentation occurring in and beyond the studio took precedence over affiliation with any art-historical group or movement, and a rich dialogue developed between artists in Northern and Southern California in the absence of powerful regional art museums and commercial galleries. California artists, particularly young, recent art school graduates, embraced a DIY attitude that resulted in the hybridization of media and the breaking apart of traditional forms and genres, freely experimenting in their works with painting, sculpture, photography, performance, video, installation, sound, books, and printed matter.

Featuring over 130 artists, Under the Big Black Sun includes over 500 art objects organized by theme, rather than by media, to underline the diverse strategies artists were using to address issues in common such as personal identity; American history, politics, and militarism; ecology and the environment; urban life; mass media and consumerism; and religion and spirituality. The exhibition includes documentary, staged, and conceptual photographs; abstract and representational paintings; freestanding sculptures, installations, and environments; performances and public demonstrations; narrative and documentary films and videos; zines and posters; ceramics and models; works on paper; decorative crafts and design objects; and ephemera.

In hindsight, the pluralism that defined the mid- to late 1970s in the wake of the singular, dominant movements of Pop, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, and Conceptualism can be seen as one of the most important developments to affect art production. The pioneering California artists featured in this exhibition created new forms by borrowing from old modes and incorporating new materials and technologies, ensuring that what historically had been divided became entangled, with no single style prevailing. Ultimately, what cohered as postmodernism during the 1980s effectively codified ideas and concepts evolving from art made in California by these artists and their peers.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 is part of Pacific Standard Time. This unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months beginning October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene.

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 North Central Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012
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