"We wanted to look at what's gone on in California through a multiplicity of lenses," said Stephanie Barron, senior curator of 20th century art and vice president of education and public programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She was talking about "Made in California: 1900-2000," an enormous project that has been in the works for three years.
Conceived as the museum's major millennium exhibition and scheduled to open in October 2000, the show will fill the entire Hammer and Anderson buildings and part of LACMA West. Offering 750 artworks, 350 cultural documents, 15 specially commissioned film and multimedia stations and two areas devoted to music, it will be the biggest, most complicated exhibition ever organized by LACMA.
But what makes the show important is not its size and scope, Barron said. In her view, the project is special because it has been shaped by an unprecedented collaboration. Curators from all the museum departments that deal with 20th century art are involved, but so are educators, specialists in film and music and various advisors. The multidisciplinary team has produced "something truly wonderful" through a process of cross-fertilization, she said.
From the very beginning, the team members agreed that they didn't want to stage a predictable, booster-ish 100-year survey, Barron said, tracking the evolution of the exhibition through dozens of meetings, a colloquium of consultants and five seminars in which plans were critiqued.
"We didn't want to make this a 'greatest hits' show. We don't have to prove that we are terrific," she said. Instead, the exhibition will examine California's changing image through a combination of fine art and material culture. The whole state will be covered, but specific regions will be emphasized during particularly fertile periods.
To make the vast project manageable, the curators have organized it thematically in five chronological segments, each spanning 20 years. Individual sections are designed as cohesive units so that visitors can take in one or more parts, then see the rest on a return trip, Barron said.
The first part of the show, covering 1900-1919, will examine the myth of California as a bountiful, exotic paradise. Next, in the section on the 1920s and 1930s, visitors will see a broader range of images that explore the impact of urbanization, the movie industry and changing demographics.
In the third section, devoted to the 1940s and 1950s, California will be portrayed as a center for defense and aerospace industries and as a trendsetter for the suburban postwar lifestyle. In sharp contrast, graphic evidence of racist and xenophobic attitudes will be on view, and the Beat poets of San Francisco and Venice will have a say.
As the show moves into the 1960s and 1970s, the state will appear as a hotbed of nonconformity and social unrest. The fifth segment will present evidence of two contradictory forces: the globalization that comes with breaking down geographic and ethnic borders and, at the same time, a growing emphasis on the needs and identities of specific groups.
Finally, for those who want to look ahead, there will be a coda on the future of California at the Boone Children's Gallery in LACMA West.
This slice of the Golden State's cultural history is complex territory, so the show will pose lots of questions for viewers, Barron said. "I want it to be fun, but I also hope it will make people think twice about these images and not just take them at face value."