Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles, CA


left: Main Museum Complex, right: LACMA West, photos, ©1999 John Hazeltine




Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000

Section 2: 1920 - 1940

October 22, 2000 - February 25, 2001


Section 2 of Made in California 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 both Northern and Southern California. The proliferation of new modern images complicated earlier, Edenic visions of the state, and the first negative imagery appeared. Section 2 begins on the second floor of the Hammer Building and includes two media stations, the first on agrarian and urban labor issues, and the second showing film clips from The Grapes of Wrath. Section 2 also 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. In addition, this section offers a listening station featuring California music from the 1920s through the 1990s, and a period room focused on early modernism. (left: Phil Paradise, Ranch Near San Luis Obispo, Evening Light, c. 1935, oil on canvas, 28 x 34 inches, The Buck Collection, Laguna Hills, California)

Urban conceptions of California appeared in the 1920s. 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. A quintessential urban image from these years is LACMA's painting of downtown Los Angeles, Angel's Flight (1931) by California regionalist Millard Sheets. Sheets portrayed the crowded, working class neighborhood of Bunker Hill as picturesque, showing a winding walkway that led up the hill rather than the mechanical open-car railway that also existed. His painting, which features two representations of his own wife, gives no hint of the ethnic diversity of this community at the time.

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

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 Touring Topics, which featured work by major artists of the region. Promoters also continued to disseminate Edenic visions of pristine natural expanses, even though urbanization and migration had considerably changed the California landscape. (left: California Fruit Growers Exchange, The Land of Oranges, 1930, book, 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches, McClelland Collection)

The image of California agriculture untouched by national events was only a myth. In the Depression years of the 1930s, dispossessed farmers from the Dust Bowl flooded the state in search of work. Dystopian images surfaced during this period. The quintessential American icon of the Depression was Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother (1936) photographed in Nipomo, California as part of her work for the Farm Security Administration.

Latino and Asian cultures remained intrinsic to California's image in the 1920s and 1930s. A number of Mexico's leading artists visited the state during this period, producing murals and other works that garnered recognition and inspired many local artists. In 1931, Diego Rivera - recently expelled from the Communist party in Mexico - and his wife, artist Frida Kahlo, came to Northern California, where he painted a mural symbolizing the state's industries for the San Francisco Stock Exchange Building. One aspect of the Latin American influence on California was the Mayan Revival, documented in the exhibition through a variety of media, including painting, furniture and architectural design. On a popular level, Latin America was merchandised at the time through the production of Mexican-inspired textiles and pottery. (left: Arthur Burnside Dodge, Taken by Surprise, n.d., watercolor on paper, 14 5/8 x 15 inches, Collection of Dr. Oscar and Trudy Lemer)

Asian communities continued to play a significant role in the state's cultural life. Residents of California's Chinatowns were depicted by artists from both within and outside of these communities. Whereas Spanish-born painter José Moya del Piño humanistically depicted his Chinese subjects in Chinese Mother and Child (1933), the dominant images of Asian culture produced in California were "exotic" scenes of Chinatowns published on postcards and other souvenirs. California's aesthetic and economic interest in Asia culminated in the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939, held on man-made Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. Brochures and documentary photographs from this event will be featured in the exhibition. (left: José Moya del Piño, Spain, active United States, 1891-1969, Chinese Mother and Child, 1933, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, Private collection, Photo: Joseph McDonald)

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