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: 1940 - 1960

October 22, 2000 - February 25, 2001


Section 3 of Made in California 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. After 1945, an idyllic image of the suburban California lifestyle was promoted nationwide, yet there were also countercultures and subcultures that challenged the mainstream image of conformity. This section begins on the third floor of the Anderson Building and includes five media stations, the first on California during World War II, the second on postwar suburbia, the third on McCarthyism and the Blacklist, the fourth on film noir, and the fifth an art station showing abstract spiritual film. This section also features listening stations with Beat poetry, California jazz, and a variety of musical selections from 1920 to the present, and a mid-century indoor-outdoor period room. (left: Toyo Miyatake, Untitled, 1943, gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 13 1/4 inches, Archie Miyatake, Miyatake Collection [152])

One of the first subjects addressed in this section is the internment of the state's sizeable Japanese population during World War Ii. Two of the internment camps, Manzanar and Tule Lake, were located in California. Images of the camps by interned Japanese artists such as Toyo Miyatake are juxtaposed with works like Mt. Williamson, (View from Manzanar) (1944) by Ansel Adams. While Adams was sympathetic to the internees, his images avoided negative aspects of camp life and focused on the surrounding natural landscape. The cultural documents in this part of the exhibition also indicate the wide spectrum of wartime attitudes in California toward the Japanese. The venomous publication Once a Jap, Always a Jap reflects the prevalence of racism whereas Ansel Adams' book Born Free and Equal was published in protest of the internment of "loyal" Japanese Americans. This section also considers wartime animosity toward other groups in California such as Mexican Americans, as reflected in the so-called Zoot Suit Riots of the early 1940s.

Also considered in this section is California's self-promotion as a center for war production, particularly by the aviation and ship building industries. During this period, considerable numbers of artists and designers worked with these and other industries in the service of the war. Charles Eames and Ray Eames, for example, designed leg splints and stretchers in molded plywood. Cole of California produced parachutes for soldiers, and designed a patriotic swimsuit available "in parachute colors" that laced up at the sides, thereby conforming to wartime regulations against the use of rubber.

Section 3 moves on to the postwar period, when the image of the casual indoor-outdoor California lifestyle was celebrated across the country. The exhibition examines the range of postwar housing developments built at the time largely to accommodate the new arrivals to the state, including middle- and working-class families of different ethnic backgrounds. This theme will be presented with a variety of cultural artifacts, from brochures on Lakewood to promotional articles in African-American publications such as Ebony and Sepia. In addition to an indoor-outdoor period room, the exhibition will feature examples of Case Study houses published in California Arts and Architecture magazine and photographed by Julius Shulman.

The beach was an important venue for California postwar leisure and appeared in work by artists including Los Angeles-based photographer Max Yavno and Bay Area figurative painters Paul John Wonner and Nathan Oliveira. Numerous painters and photographers considered California's rapidly developing urban landscape as well.

Max Biberman, who had ties to the entertainment industry, painted urban subjects such as the Hollywood Palladium. An icon of the urban Los Angeles landscape is Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, presented in the exhibition through a photograph by Man Ray, who left Paris to spend the war years in Los Angeles.

Richard Diebenkorn depicted the transformation of the natural landscape through the development of freeways in his work Freeway and Aqueduct (1957). Other figures addressed more sobering aspects of the changing environment such as the displacement of older, often poor communities to make way for urban development. This is documented in an image taken by a photojournalist of the last residents of the Mexican-American community of Chavez Ravine being evicted from their homes in preparation for the construction of Dodger Stadium.

In California during the 1950s, a number of artists reacted against the conformist mindset of the day and contributed to a nascent counterculture movement. This section looks at the creative figures known as the Beats, including painters Jay De Fee, Wally Hedrick, and Joan Brown. Beat artists frequently used "found" objects that had been discarded by mainstream society, rejecting the pervasive ethos of newness, neatness, and uniformity in works like Bruce Conner's abstract Portrait of Allen Ginsberg (1960). Wallace Berman, a central Beat figure in both Northern and Southern California, paired the literary and visual arts in his nine-installment publication Semina (1955-64). Another artist of the period involved in California counterculture was sculptor Peter Voulkos, who like many of his Beat contemporaries was an avid jazz listener. Voulkos, who founded the California clay movement, considered his free-form ceramic works to be improvisational and free spirited, like jazz compositions.

rev. 12/19/00

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