Overview

Art in L.A. is a study of materials and fabrication processes used by Los Angeles-based artists since the 1950s and the implications these materials and processes have for conservation. This research is being undertaken through discussions with artists (and/or their assistants or fabricators), through close examination and scientific analysis of works by these artists, and through archival research. The project, part of the GCI's Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative, seeks to engage a wide mix of the Los Angeles art community—first and foremost artists, but also fabricators, conservators, and curators—in a creative dialogue about broader issues in the conservation of contemporary art and to disseminate this information through a variety of media.

Background - late 1950s

Since the end of World War II, Los Angeles has boasted a vibrant contemporary art scene, and as such, offers an excellent setting to explore modern and contemporary art practices and to research options for preserving artworks for the future.
The period under study begins in the 1950s, with artists Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin who created paintings with crisp geometric shapes and sharp lines and who were among the first to produce a prominent and distinctive "West Coast" style. The study period continues to the present day, encompassing younger generations working in a broad variety of materials.
A particular focus of the project however, are the 1960s and 1970s, two decades in which many artists embraced the use of new resins, paints, and plastics in their work and adopted innovative fabrication techniques from the industrial world for art production. This turn toward new materials and processes contributed to the creation of a distinctive body of work characterized by bright, sensuous colors and pristine surfaces, often achieved through lengthy polishing processes requiring a high level of craftsmanship. The look of these flawless works became so closely associated with artists working in Los Angeles it was dubbed the "L.A. Look." Artists such as Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Ron Davis, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, Helen Pashgian, and De Wain Valentine, were inspired by the natural and human made landscapes of Southern California, as well as Los Angeles-based subcultures, such as car customizing.
Although focused on Los Angeles art and artists, the research undertaken will have an impact beyond Southern California: many works by the artists under study are in major U.S. and international collections, and the conservation issues under study are often relevant to modern and contemporary art in general. The wealth of compiled information will provide conservators entrusted with the care of these works with an important framework to support conservation decisions.

Goals

The GCI seeks through its study of the materials, processes, and conservation treatments of works by Los Angeles–based artists to bring an improved understanding of artists' materials and processes, as well as of artists' intent and attitudes towards conservation. This knowledge, in turn, will support decisions regarding the storage, display, and conservation of these works of art, including technical and ethical aspects.
Results from the Art in L.A. project will be disseminated through a variety of media, including publications and videos featuring artists demonstrating their working processes and discussing the conservation of their work.

Last updated: October 2013