Los Angeles in Paris: 1955-1985

The Centre Pompidou in Paris has mounted a major survey of art from Los Angeles, titled Los Angeles 1955-1985: The Birth of an Artistic Capital. The exhibit offers 326 objects produced by over 80 artists working in LA during a thirty year period, tracing the explosion of creativity unique to the city of my birth. The Centre Pompidou website describes the exhibit as a “many-sided history of a peculiar scene, from its emergence at the beginning of the 1960s up until 1985.”

The exhibit is arranged chronologically and displays a wide range of artworks and artifacts, including Pop, minimalism, assemblage, video and installation, performance and conceptual art. Some of the dozens of artists in the exhibit include John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Judy Chicago, Richard Diebenkorn, Llyn Foulkes, David Hockney, Edward Kienholz, Susan Mogul, Ed Moses, and Jeffrey Vallance. Of course, there were many artists of note who were not included, but the show at the Centre Pompidou is a survey – a first step in acknowledging Los Angeles as a world center for art. Hopefully there will be many other such exhibits to follow. Thankfully, LA’s Chicano arts movement was acknowledged by the Centre Pompidou with the inclusion of works by the ASCO colectivo – the long defunct group composed of members Patssi Valdez, Gronk, Harry Gamboa, and Willie Herron. With a bit of luck, perhaps American museums will start to pay as much attention to the current lively Chicano art scene.

A Press Release from the Centre Pompidou (available in .pdf format,) actually offers more information about the exhibit than does the museum website. The Press Release exclaims “The Los Angeles artistic scene is unique in its multiform nature and in its continuous renewal of aesthetics and artists. Art here is inspired by the complexity of this ‘ville-monde’ or megalopolis in which underground movements mix with popular California culture, with its community expression as the world of its dream machines of Hollywood and Disneyland.”

Interestingly enough, I was contacted by the Centre Pompidou in May 2005, regarding the exhibition catalog they were publishing for the show. Museum staff informed me that the catalog would help create a wider context for the artworks on display, with the 400 page book presenting “a chronological per-year account of major general events in Los Angeles, and more specifically on the art scene, by means of photographs, archival documents and original texts from the period.” Since the exhibit in part depicts how “underground movements mix with popular California culture,” the Centre Pompidou was interested in documenting the angry outburst of LA’s early punk rock scene; specifically, they wanted to reproduce a Slash Magazine cover – since that publication was the very first in LA to promulgate the punk movement.

Slash Magazine cover, 1977

[ Cover art for 1st issue of Slash Magazine – May Day 1977. ]

However, with the original publishers of Slash now deceased, incognito, or dispersed to the four winds, the Centre Pompidou first presented its request to Alice Bag, singer for LA’s seminal punk band, The Bags. Knowing that I worked at Slash as an artist and designer, creating cover art for two editions of the magazine, and that I possess an archive of the surly publication, Alice Bag forwarded the museum’s request to me, saying “you’d be a better person to coordinate this.” I offered my entire archived set of Slash Magazines to the Pompidou, under the stipulation that anything published would be credited, “From the collection of Mark Vallen.” The museum expressed great interest in the first and last editions of the magazine – which was a personal thrill since I did the cover art for the final edition. However, as fate would have it, the museum opted for just the first edition cover due to space limitations. Still, it was an honor to collaborate with the Centre Pompidou, albeit in a small way, to help portray the true face of Los Angeles to the world.

On March 7th, 2006, Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio R. Villaraigosa, issued a Press Release titled, “Statement From Mayor Villaraigosa On Opening Of Art Exhibit ‘Los Angeles 1955-1985’ At Centre Pompidou In Paris, France.” The complete statement from the Mayor’s office reads as follows:

(Los Angeles) – Los Angeles is America’s creative capital. Our City has a rich cultural diversity that is unique to Los Angeles. It is this rich cultural diversity which fuels the creative palette in our dynamic city. As Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, the 2nd largest city in the US, I am very proud that Los Angeles 1955-1985: The Birth of an Artistic Capital will be on exhibit in Europe’s premier modern showcase – The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France. This 30-year overview presenting 87 selected artists presents a great opportunity for the City of Los Angeles and France to build a stronger partnership in tourism and economic endeavors, while gaining inspiration through culture and art.

Los Angeles 1955-1985, runs at The Centre Pompidou in Paris until July 17th, 2006.

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