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Pacific Standard Time: Young artists talk about the sweeping exhibit

Many are impressed with its scope, but others think it may be trying to do too much or even misrepresent the L.A. art movement.

January 22, 2012|By Holly Myers, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • "I WISH that PST stretched over three to five years or longer," says sculptor Nuttaphol Ma, 40.
"I WISH that PST stretched over three to five years or longer,"… (Ryan Miller / WireImage )

We've heard a great deal in recent months from members of the Pacific Standard Time generation: artists whose work between 1945 and 1980 heralded "the birth of the Los Angeles art scene," in the words of the Getty's PR campaign. Less visible have been the heirs to all this innovation — the artists who've swelled the ranks in the last two decades, standing on the shoulders of PST's giants to capture the attention of curators everywhere.

Which gets one to wondering: What have they seen? What are their responses? What does the post-PST generation make of the ubiquitous PST enterprise, now at its approximate midpoint?

The lines, of course, are far from distinct. The L.A. art scene, whether pre- or postnatal, is a multigenerational social ecosystem, in which 1980 is an arbitrary boundary. The history that PST has crafted is one that's continually bumping against the now. "It feels very present because a lot of those people are still around and still teaching," says Mara de Luca, 38, a painter who graduated from Cal Arts in 2004. "A lot of the people in the Redcat show ['The Experimental Impulse'] were my teachers. It felt odd to see the whole institution historicized in this way. It's like if you take your childhood and make a museum show out of it or something."

Alison O'Daniel, 32, came here in 2007 after stints in Austin, Texas, London and Mexico City to get her MFA at UC Irvine. Like many recent grads, she says, she has the interesting perspective of watching the faculty she's studied with reviving old projects for PST. "Many of us came to these programs to work with these artists, so it's really exciting to see the trajectory of their practices in the PST shows," she says.

Soliciting opinions about PST is something like querying the proverbial blind men on the subject of the elephant: No two people have seen the same PST. "It's giant," says Shana Lutker, 33, a sculptor. "You can't possibly traverse the whole series of exhibitions. Yet it's really understated! It's sprawling, overwhelming, kind of understated, easy to miss if you're not looking for it, but once you find it and take time to appreciate it, you'll be pleasantly surprised. It's just like L.A."

The majority of young artists interviewed spoke of PST with qualified enthusiasm. Many were dismissive of the manner in which it's been packaged for the public and suspicious of the tendency toward nostalgic sentimentalism. Many were simply overwhelmed. But nearly all were exhilarated by one thing or another and commended the efforts of individual exhibitions to bring under-recognized artists to light.

The strongest criticism — by far — concerned the marketing. "It is only men, and it is only superstars promoting other superstars," says Alexandra Grant, 38, a text-based artist who works in painting and sculpture. "There is a sense of insecurity. 'People won't understand if we use a less-well-known person' — well, that's actually part of the problem. PST is about people other than the people who are already well known."

Several questioned the ideological implications of the historicizing impulse. "Sometimes PST seems a bit like navel-gazing," O'Daniel says. Noting, as many did, that few of the shows are slated to travel, she wonders if it isn't "a bit like a self-congratulatory high-five in a vacuum. In talking to my friends elsewhere, it feels like it's being recognized as an important, massively scaled and organized bunch of intertwining exhibitions that no one else is going to see!"

"My reservation about PST," says Thai-born sculptor Nuttaphol Ma, 40, who earned his MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 2009, "is that it takes the huge undertaking in one blast. Boom! Done! I wish that PST stretched over three to five years or longer and engaged in alternative ways of presenting the work to reach the public in a smart way."

"There is a weird, obligatory nostalgia part," says Deborah Aschheim, 47, whose work explores issues of memory. "Like these were the days of the giants, everyone was so young and good-looking and groundbreaking. That feeling of 'Oh, you got here after the party.' I am always suspicious of that kind of gloss on the past."

The one near-universal point of agreement was excitement for the abundance of the artwork itself — particularly the abundance of the unknown or unfamiliar. "It's not the same experience as reading about a Warhol in an art history book and going to the MoMA to see that exact Warhol," says Anna Sew Hoy, 35, a sculptor. "With PST, it's so much about seeing this stuff for the first time and not having read about or studied it in school first. The sense of discovery makes it feel very alive."

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