Exhibition Celebrates Work By San Diego Artists Baldessari, Baldwin, Morris And Matheny
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Think about mid century modern art in America, and what names come to mind? Maybe Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol? Very different artists with one thing in common: they were all based on the East Coast. West Coast modern artists routinely have been overlooked by the art establishments, and that is even more true for artists at the last stop of the US West Coast here in San Diego. An exhibition of the work of four midcentury San Diego artist gets underway this weekend at the Oceanside Museum of Art. The show is called "Spitting in the Wind, Art from the End of the Line." I would like to welcome my guests, Tara Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Oceanside Museum of Art, welcome to the program. TARA SMITH: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Dave Hampton who is curating the show, welcome back. DAVE HAMPTON: Hi Maureen, nice to see you again. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who are the artists being shown at the show, and what are they best known for? DAVE HAMPTON: The four artists, three are still living in one is deceased, are John Baldessari, Russell Baldwin, Bob Matheny, and Richard Allen Morris. They are all four native Southern Californians. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: can you give us a nutshell of what they are known for? DAVE HAMPTON: That is hard, because they are sort of recognized in different degrees in different ways. I would say that three of the artists, Baldwin, Matheny, and Morris, all had their bulk of their careers here in San Diego, while very famous John Baldessari left the area in 1970 and is much more recognized in the international art world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When they were all here, in the 50s and 60s, did they know each other? DAVE HAMPTON: Absolutely, and that is part of what is very exciting to me about the show. They were all good friends. That started in the late 1950s. I think it happened because they were in a lot of the same exhibitions, particularly places like the San Diego Art Guild at the Museum of art in Balboa Park, the art center in La Jolla in the late 1950s. They were crossing paths and working with a limited, modest infrastructure that San Diego hat. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us an idea of the kind of work being shown at this exhibition. Is it painting, photos, bold color? What will we see? TARA SMITH: I would say that it is a mix of all of that except there are not too many photographs except for ones that are documenting the history of what happened, which is exciting about this exhibition. You have many fine arts, sculpture, painting, multimedia, but Dave has sharply put together the history of these four artists within the 50s and 60s, and he has done this through posters of shows when they were together and documentation around the works and those people. DAVE HAMPTON: There is a really, really, really, great variety of stuff in the shows. It ranges from video, a taste of photography, things were more used to in terms of sculpture and painting where the hand of the artist is really there at work. There are other objects produced more by more commercial means. You can see in this show over time you can see evidence in some cases where the artist that spec and wants the idea to be the main point, and it is not so important that he or she executes this with their own hand. There is also a T-shirt, poetry journals published by Richard Allen Morris, and artifacts that sort of contextualize the community they were all a part of. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you are not only seeing what they created, but you are stepping a little bit into the world in which they created it. Let's talk about the central theme of the exhibit, Spitting in the Wind. These artists were creating art, but they felt they were not accepted, or part of the contemporary art world? DAVE HAMPTON: One word that comes out an awful lot in interviews and talking with them, is isolated. I think it is safe to say that they all experienced a sense of being isolated down here in San Diego. Also I think they said at the time very clearly in interviews that they are really disappointed with San Diego as an art community, they were frustrated working here. It was awful hard to sell work here, there was not a great deal of support for the kind of late modern early contemporary art that they were producing. Whether that was abstract impressionist, painterly paintings, or other kinds of objects, there was not a great deal of appreciation for that in San Diego. I think in some ways it shaped all of their careers to an extent. Especially the three that stayed here. They lived with this as a constant day to day struggle, I guess. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: John Baldessari put a kind of positive spin on this when he was asked by KPBS a few years ago about the kind of freedom that came from this isolation: [AUDIO FILE PLAYING] SPEAKER4: Nobody was looking over my shoulder, I would have never of done those things anyplace else. Who cares except me, I can do whatever I want [END AUDIO] MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I guess that is the glass half full reading on that. DAVE HAMPTON: Yes, it is something I think is really curious, because all of these guys also, that is a positive way to look at it, there was freedom because there was not an audience paying a lot of attention, or there was not such a scene that they felt they had to respond to the trends. There is freedom, but at the same time, it was awful hard to sell your work. Yes you could do whatever you wanted, it was anyone going to come and see your show? Parts of this was a bit paradoxical, because the was attention paid to these artists at the time. There were journals written about them, they had shows, there was action, but it was still limited and felt frustrating to them. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How are these artists regarded now? TARA SMITH: I would say all four of them are extremely well-regarded. Careers like Dave mentioned have been different, and some of them have been more internationally successful, but all of the names, locally and nationally, are names that are really well known within this time period of modern and contemporary art history. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In fact a couple of years ago there was an exhibition over a number museums called of Pacific Standard Time, didn't that highlight the work of Southern California artists including artists here in San Diego? TARA SMITH: Yes, there were dozens of institutions that participated in this. I know that the MCSD in La Jolla was one of them. This is continuing some of that conversation but not directly involved with it. DAVE HAMPTON: Two of the guys in this show were featured in the show San Diego Craft Revolution that was a Pacific Standard Time show. Matheny and Baldwin were in that exhibition. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is your take now? Do the surviving artists feel appreciated now, innocence vindicated? DAVE HAMPTON: I cannot presume to speak for them, but I do think that they are all found ways to cope with this, the way to live with San Diego as a town to make art. Richard Morrison particular has experienced a lot of international acclaim over the last decade. It is a little curious that it took outsiders, in a way, to see just how marvelous his work is your not that people in San Diego did not know that, but there was not a big clamor for his work here, although he was well known and well respected. It was really the Europeans that came along and made a big splash at of rediscovering this guy's work. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Were the surviving artists involved in the creation of this exhibition? TARA SMITH: Yes, Dave spent a significant amount of time with them. He has some lovely recorded interviews with the guys, and really, he and Richard have a very strong relationship that seems to be the strongest of all of them. They were part of it, and they reviewed the catalog that we reduced, and really got to have a voice within the exhibition. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where did you get the art from in this exhibition? DAVE HAMPTON: We got it from all over the place. A lot of it came from local private collections. Some items were very graciously lent by John Baldessari and his terrific studio staff. He left us some early pieces that have not been exhibited a lot, and are not the kind of first thing that one imagines when they think about this artists. These are works from the late 50s and early 60s. I did feel like it was an archaeological excavation, because I was going back in time in a figurative sense. I was gathering up their stories, and in some cases it was literally in a basement with a flashlight trying to find old objects. I sort of felt like the job was in put to get the stuff out and put it together for the first time, because no one had done it quite like this. And to see what to make of it. This was not an answer, this was an opening, a beginning. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And a question. I am interested in what you have been saying about how San Diego was unreceptive back in the 50s and 60s, when these artists were all here together creating this art. And your implication that San Diego is not the primary discoverer of this art, that indeed there is this lack of artistic enthusiasm in our community. Is San Diego still continued considered an isolated spot for an artist to work in? DAVE HAMPTON: I cannot answer that too comfortably. [LAUGHTER] MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Go out of your comfort zone! [LAUGHTER] DAVE HAMPTON: I think there is probably such a variety of experiences. But, it is certainly not a major our community. People love the beach, the outdoors, there is a stereotype of what San Diego is like as a lifestyle place. It is very outdoorsy and not so geared towards the arts. People have been remarking on this over the last 50 to 60 years, when I did the research for the group of artists that came along right after World War II. They were saying the same things, having the same discussion. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, do you have to craft your exhibitions in a certain way to get people in? TARA SMITH: Well, I mean we try to do a mix of exhibitions that of course the mission is to serve the regional artists and in our local community. Within that, we usually try to tactically show some paintings in one gallery, and some drawings in another. We realize that taste is involved, and that goes in the time. With San Diego history that we discussed within group and solo exhibitions. We usually tend to range from Los Angeles down to Mexico. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everybody that this exhibition, "Spitting in the Wind, Art from the End of the Line" opens at the Oceanside Museum on Saturday and runs through November 2. Thank you both very much. TARA SMITH: Thank you. DAVE HAMPTON: Thank you.
Think about mid-century modern art in America and what names come to mind?
Maybe Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns or Andy Warhol?
Very different artists with one thing in common: They were all based on the East Coast.
West Coast modern artists routinely have been overlooked by the art establishment, and that's even more true for artists at the last stop of the United States West Coast, right here in San Diego.
An exhibition of the work of four mid-century San Diego artists gets underway this weekend at the Oceanside Museum of Art. The show is called "Spitting in the Wind, Art From The End of the Line" by Richard Allen Morris, John Baldessari, Bob Matheny and Russell Baldwin.
In 2012 Baldessari told KPBS about the freedom that came from the isolation.
"Because no one was looking over my shoulder," he said. "I never would have done those text things anywhere else. Who cares but me? I can do anything I want!"