BRONX, N.Y. — The Bronx Museum of the Arts is the only East Coast venue to present “State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970,” an exhibition that explores the emergence of conceptual art in California in the 1960s and 70s and illustrating the broad impact California Conceptualism has on contemporary art today. The exhibition is on view through September 8.
The exhibition was developed as part of the Getty Foundation’s collaborative exhibition series “Pacific Standard Time,” and features 150 works by 60 artists in a range of media. Each of the artists featured in the exhibition — including Chris Burden, Lynn Hershman, Linda Mary Montano, Martha Rosler, Allen Ruppersberg and Ed Ruscha — played a seminal role in the emergence of California Conceptualism. Marked by its radical forms and ideas, the new art movement permeated the country in the 1960s and 70s and has continued to influence artists since its inception.
Works in the exhibition exemplify the unrestricted style of the era, when art was produced for alternative audiences and outside of artists’ studios — in the streets, at artist-run galleries and in other nontraditional spaces. “State of Mind” features video, film, photography, installation, artist’s books, drawings and extensive performance documentation and ephemera. The exhibition’s tour is organized by Independent Curators International.
“Though the artists in the exhibition are all associated with California, their stories and the counterculture they developed in the 60s and 70s resonates with the cultural movement around the country and in the Bronx during this time,” said Bronx Museum of the Arts Director Holly Block. “It was a pivotal period in the genesis of contemporary art, and we’re excited to bring this incredible collection of work that emerged from California to the East Coast.”
California Conceptualism began in the mid-1960s, when California emerged as an incubator for social change and youth-oriented counterculture. Events such as the Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles, the Chicano students’ protests against racism and inequality in the public schools, and despair over the Vietnam War had a major impact on the artists in this exhibition, who sought to forge a new, more open society.
With revolution in the air and California representing the future and freedom for experimentation of all kinds, traditional forms of art seemed remote and wholly inadequate to the concerns of the moment.
No longer satisfied with the museum’s role in presenting art, artists performed live events or produced interactive installations as a means to critique the institution.
The diversity of work on view in “State of Mind” reveals one of the most enduring legacies of early California Conceptualism: the breadth of work it generated. The range of media and styles that emerged gave succeeding generations a broader definition of what art could be, and put local artists in conversation with like-minded artists of their generation and future generations around the country and the world.
Many of the hallmarks of contemporary art practice — collectivity, emphasis on the ephemeral, body-oriented performance, participation, art as life, political commentary and art as social interaction — were pioneered in the time and place the exhibition examines , an era in which the role of the artist and the very definition of art and its academic and institutional structures were challenged.
Highlights of the exhibition include: a comprehensive documentation of Allen Ruppersberg’s “Al’s Grand Hotel,” 1971; a well known photograph from Chris Burden’s “Shoot,” 1971, in which a friend shot Burden in the arm with a .22 rifle — the artist’s response to the killing of student protestors at Kent State; and Eleanor Antin’s “Representational Painting,” 1971, in which the artist treats the camera like a dressing-table mirror before which she transforms herself through the careful application of makeup, commenting on traditional painting and how women choose to represent themselves to the world. Her piece is one example of the prominence of the feminist movement in the Southern California arts community of the 1960s and 70s.
A fully illustrated catalog with essays accompanies the exhibition.
The museum is at 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th Street. For general information, www.bronxmuseum.org or 718-681-6000.