The artists featured in this Letters from Los Angeles exhibition have used text
in extraordinarily diverse ways: immortalizing L.A.'s signs, streets, and gas
stations; using comic book captions to convey dramatic angst, juxtaposing
text with appropriated images; framing collages with wry observations and
titles; surrealist re-configuring of old prints and clippings with snatches
of verse and prose, employing the power of language to pose disquieting
comments in conceptual works, often dealing with anti-war, racial, and gender
issues. The range of approaches is as individual as the artists themselves.
The vast and diverse ways that Southern California artists incorporate words,
numerals, and text reflects an aesthetic that might even be seen as a logical
antecedent to the current spotlight on contemporary graffiti and tattoo art.
Since the 1960s, text in the art of L.A. was most popularized by Edward
Ruscha, whose works are included in this exhibition. Letters from Los Angeles also includes works from the artist whose works were most ubiquitous
in the 1960s - Corita Kent (1918-1986). Concurrent with the LA Art Show,
Corita Kent's works are the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at
the Tang Museum at Skidmore College in New York, presented through the
support of the Andy Warhol Foundation. Quoting the Warhol Foundation: "...
Sister Corita, who achieved fame in the 1960s as a liberal activist artist nun
...incorporated text borrowed from a wide variety of sources, from advertising
to literature to scripture. …their ingenious textual amalgams exhort viewers to
create a better society, and mix secular and religious, pop culture and fine art,
suffering and joy. As such they are a vibrant expression of the contradictions
and enthusiasms of sixties culture."
Theirs was by no means the first extensive use of typography in L.A. contemporary art. For example, from 1955 to 1964, Wallace Berman (1926-1976) brought typography and poetry together in a distinct and provocative way though a loose-leaf, free form art and poetry series entitled "Semina."
This now rare collection of "Semina" would ultimately be
reconstructed [shown in this exhibition] by an artist closely associated with
Berman, George Herms, one of the most significant collage artists to emerge
from that generation.
In painting, while text can be seen in the anti-war canvases of Hans Burkhardt (1904- 1994), as well as in his paintings reacting to the Hollywood labor wars at the end of WW II, this exhibition includes Burkhardt's Basel Graffiti paintings of 1981, before the term "graffiti" was generally considered in the realm of fine art.
were not graffiti art
in and of themselves,
but rather, formidable
graffiti and the plight
of the street markmakers
during travels to Basel,
paintings are powerful
reflections upon the
urban landscape he
more directly, they
capture the angst, as
well as the hope, of a
generation five decades
younger than Burkhardt.
Hans Burkhardt's are
the most painterly
works in Letters from
A particularly fitting location, The LA Art Show's exhibition, Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art begins immediately upon entering the Los Angeles Convention Center where two monumental works – terrazzo floors by Alexis Smith - reside. The South Hall Lobby of the Convention Center features an expansive map of the Pacific Rim. Spanning 50,000 square feet, this work is inset with medallions depicting cultural motifs from Pacific Rim cultures. The Convention Center's South Hall Lobby floor reveals Smith's night sky on its two levels. Whether viewed in close proximity by standing within their space or by engaging them from an upper vantage point, they are remarkable for their beauty.
Artists included in Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art are: Lita Albuquerque, John Baldessari, Bill Barminski, Wallace Berman, Chris Burden, Hans Burkhardt, Huguette Caland, Greg Colson, Doug Edge, Mark X Farina, Jud Fine, Eve Fowler, Gajin Fujita, Alexandra Grant, Scott Grieger, Mark Steven Greenfield, Raul Guerrero, George Herms, Iva Hladis, Dennis Hopper, Ed Kienholz, Lynn Hanson, Charles LaBelle, Mark Licari, Michael C. McMillen, Jim Morphesis, Ed Moses, Bruce Nauman, Stas Orlovski, David Allan Peters, Paulin Paris, Raymond Pettibon, Lari Pittman, Ken Price, Bruce Richards, Ed Ruscha, Richard Shelton, Alexis Smith, Masami Teraoka, J. Michael Walker, Tom Wudl, and others.
While Los Angeles’ international recognition is acknowledged via text, it must be noted that Angelinos also self-identify with text, as no other city in the world refers to itself in both the written and spoken word so distinctly and interchangeably as we do with the initials: “L.A.”