LOS ANGELES.- Building on the recent success of Collecting Collections: Highlights from the Permanent Collection of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2008), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) again gives center stage to works from its outstanding permanent collection. Index: Conceptualism in California from the Permanent Collection, on view at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA August 24 through December 15, 2008, draws upon the museums substantial holdings of works by artists who have lived and worked in California and have contributed to the international lexicon of conceptual art. Organized by MOCA Curator Philipp Kaiser and MOCA Curatorial Assistant Corrina Peipon, the exhibition surveys the evolution of conceptual practices in California by highlighting important individual works and selected groupings by over 60 artists in the collection. With more than 200 works on view, Index includes work in collage, drawing, film, installation, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and video.
Along with its remarkable breadth, MOCAs collection is characterized by areas of extraordinary depth, nowhere more so than with this crucial topic of conceptualism in California, said MOCA Director Jeremy Strick. Index will be presented in our largest exhibition space at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, giving visitors the opportunity to experience a multitude of important works from our collection, with an emphasis on art made in this region that is also part of a global conversation.
The influential international art movement eventually known as conceptual art began in the mid-1960s as a response to the preceding pop and minimalist movements. Intellectually rigorous and often humorous, conceptualist practices emphasize the primacy of ideas over objects, often employing language, repetition, documentation, and historical and cultural references. Additionally, conceptual art often includes critical positions in relation to mass culture and institutional authority.
Index explores the foundations and legacies of this movement through a multi-generational approach that spans over 40 years of artmaking. Proto-conceptual works are represented by such artists as Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, and Edward Kienholz, who began using non-traditional strategies like language-based media, repetition of images, and collage in the 1950s. At the core of the exhibition are works by Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Guy de Cointet, Douglas Huebler, William Leavitt, Allen Ruppersberg, Edward Ruscha, and Alexis Smith, among many others. Works like David Lamelass Los Angeles Friends (Larger than Life) (1976) are cornerstones of MOCAs collection as well as of the art historical understanding of conceptual art from the 1960s and 1970s. Exhibited at MOCA for the first time, Los Angeles Friends (Larger than Life) comprises 40 drawings and 80 slides. Each of the small drawings is a portrait of an artist, curator, or gallerist in Los Angeles. The slides are images of the drawings that are projected, as the title states, larger than life. Having relocated from Argentina to the United States during the 1970s, Lamelas invented an artwork within which he was able to connect with his new colleagues through a set of aesthetic rules that resulted in a dynamic portrait of a specific place and time.
Another highlight of Index is Chris Burdens Exposing the Foundation of the Museum (1986/2008), a critical response to the institution of art itself. Originally conceived and executed by Burden for MOCA in 1986 as part of Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, 194586, the work consists of a 52 x 16-foot displacement of the buildings concrete floor. Three ten-foot-deep ditches are built to reveal the foundations pilings, and viewers are invited to descend into the work via wooden staircases.
Recognizing the long-ranging influence of the earlier generation of conceptual artists, Index also presents post-conceptual explorations by the next generation including Jack Goldstein, Barbara Kruger, Mitchell Syrop, James Welling, and Christopher Williams. Informed by pop, minimalist, conceptual, and feminist art, the work of second-generation conceptualists is characterized by its ironic distance and concern with gender roles, sexuality, the construction of identity, and the psychological impact of media and corporate culture. Many of these artists were interested in joining a variety of media within individual worksNayland Blake, Meg Cranston, Richard Jackson, Mike Kelley, Martin Kersels, and Stephen Prina combined sculpture, performance, painting, and drawing to startling effect, often using found objects and familiar imagery to rethink autobiographical narratives through conceptual frameworks.
For her work Little Frank and His Carp (2001), Andrea Fraser rented an audio tour of the Guggenheim Bilbao, Frank Gehrys landmark building in Bilbao, Spain. In the video documentation of her performance, Fraser observes the architecture with mock wonderment and caresses its massive columns, as is suggested by the audio tours narrator. As her actions become increasingly sexual and other museum-goers begin to notice her behavior, this humorous performance pivots on the potential conflict between the function of buildings and the role of museums.
Along with the multigenerational makeup of its artist community, Californias physical and cultural landscapes have been noted for fostering diversity in art practices. Artists such as Cindy Bernard, T. Kelly Mason, and Dave Muller envisioned multifaceted practices resulting in works in media that are melded or invented, with an emphasis on social interaction as an aesthetic activity. Research-based content and stylistic variation inform the practices of artists like Richard Hawkins, Sharon Lockhart, Sarah Seager, Diana Thater, and Lincoln Tobier. Works by Jim Isermann, Jorge Pardo, and Pae White quote directly from the decorative arts and innovative 20th-century design to explore a cultural understanding of furniture, architecture, and sculpture.
Since its inception, MOCA has played a significant role in defining and expanding the parameters of conceptual art, through its commitment to collecting the work of local artists and by presenting comprehensive benchmark surveys such as A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation (1989) and 19651995: Reconsidering the Object of Art (199596). Index provides a unique survey of California conceptual art from the 1960s to the present, while also offering a valuable glimpse into MOCAs consistent engagement with the movement.