Made in California: Art, Image & Identity

Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, a landmark exhibition, addresses the relationship between the arts in California and the state’s evolving image over the past century.

Organized by LACMA – The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exhibition goes beyond a standard presentation of California art to offer a revisionist view of the state and its cultural legacy. It considers both “booster” images of California, such as those from Chambers of Commerce, and other coexisting and at times, competing images, reflecting the wide range of interests and experiences of the state’s diverse constituencies.

It is the largest exhibition ever organized or hosted by LACMA and includes 800 works of art, more than 400 cultural documents, 16 specially commissioned film and multimedia stations, three mural reconstructions, and three period rooms. The exhibit is divided into five sections occupying 45,000 square feet of gallery space. Cultural documents including tourist brochures, rock posters, labor pamphlets, and documentary photographs from important public and private collections from across the nation convey California’s fascinating history and changing popular image.

Section One examines the years 1900 to 1920 and establishes the conceptual foundation for the exhibition. The myths by which California is most often identified formed at that time, as the state’s boosters in industry, regional government and the press promoted California to a largely white middle class constituency.

Three media stations present period footage of California, early depictions of California’s Latino and Asian communities and a commissioned documentary of Hollywood glamour serves as a prelude to Section Two. A golden vision of California as an unspoiled paradise dominated the popular consciousness during this period. The arts played a pivotal role in shaping and popularizing this Eden-like image. Although California was large promoted in the early part of the century as a haven for whites, the state’s official boosters and many of its artists cultivated myths about the region’s cultural character such as its Spanish mission history. Also frequently portrayed by boosters and artists at this time were California’s Asian communities, present in the region since the Gold Rush.

Section Two considers the period from 1920 through the Great Depression when conceptions of California expanded considerably. These were years when industries grew and demographics changed in all parts of the state. The proliferation of new modern images complicated earlier, utopian visions of the state, and the first negative imagery appeared. This section features two mural stations which are scale model recreations of murals in situ. The first features Diego Rivera’s Allegory of California painted in the San Francisco Stock Exchange Building, while the second highlights selected murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower. Urban conceptions of California appeared in the ‘20s. This section explores a variety of perspectives on this theme, including genre scenes of everyday life, images championing new industry and technology, depictions of poverty in the Depression era and views of labor unrest.

The new industry most identified with Southern California was the movie factory, which blossomed seemingly overnight in Hollywood. Made in California focuses on the glamor aspect of the industry, with celebrity photographs by George Hurrell and others, costumes from well-known films and a documentary.

Latino and Asian cultures remained intrinsic to California’s image in the 1920s and 1930s. Scenic images of the California landscape continued to proliferate, even during the Depression years. Booster industries and organizations encouraged automobile travel and promoted new tourist destinations like the desert in publications such as the Automobile Club of Southern California’s magazine which featured works by major artists of the region. Promoters also continued to disseminate visions of the pristine natural expanses even though urbanization and migration considerably changed the California landscape.

Section Three explores California’s image during and after World War II, years of continued massive migration to the state when California emerged as a center for the defense and aerospace industries and was viewed as a place of tremendous employment opportunity. One of the first subjects addressed in this section is the internment of the state’s sizable Japanese population during World War II. Two of the internment camps, Manzanar and Tule Lake, were located in California. The cultural documents in this part of the exhibition indicate the wide spectrum of wartime attitudes in California towards the Japanese.

Blacklisting during the McCarthy era is addressed in this section. On a more positive note, this section features listening stations with Beat poetry, California jazz and a variety of musical selections from 1920 to the present.

Section Four, focuses on the period between 1960 and 1980. During these years, California, and particularly the San Francisco Bay area, became widely associated with non-conformists and anti-authoritarianism while it also evoked the political conservatism of Governor Ronald Reagan. The state’s image came to be defined by a more diverse constituency with the emergence of political voices from the Latino, African-American, feminist, gay and other communities.

Many California artists of this period, particularly in the Southland, were immersed in car and beach cultures and integrated them into their art while also experimenting with new materials developed in the aerospace and defense industries. This section considers how the automobile influenced and inspired California artists. Unquestionably, the single most commanding aspect of the California image in the 1960’s was that of counterculture. Events such as the founding of the Free Speech Movement on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964; the coalescing of hippie culture in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the mid-60s; and the formation of the revolutionary Black Panther Party in Oakland in 1966 revealed an epicenter of potent new social forces that ultimately catalyzed profound changes in the nation and the world. The revolutionary new spirit, although not unique to California, found its most lively artistic expression here.

Section Five addresses the multiplicity of California images that have proliferated in the past 20 years, in conjunction with an increasingly diverse and at times polarized population. This section also considers the impact of globalization which has made the state more accessible to the rest of the world and brought distant locations to California’s doorstep. With the rise of multiculturalism, issues of identity have figured prominently in the art of this period.

Perceptions of California itself have also become more complex during these years. As the mass media have cultivated anti-utopian visions of the state as rife with natural disasters and social unrest, artists have often taken ironic or critical approaches to longstanding California icons such as Barbie, the beach, the suburban ranch house and Disney. The California landscape and particularly the built environment continues to be a powerful subject for artists in the 1980s and 1990s.

Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity 1900-2000 is a landmark exhibition that addresses the relationship between the arts in California and the state’s evolving image over the past century. On view from October 22, 2000 through February 25, 2001 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

For information

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Bl.
Los Angeles, CA 90036