Pacific Standard Time, Or Biding Time in New Mexico?
Often, for artists, a move to New Mexico from Los Angeles or New York has been perceived as a drop out of sight, off the map, and even into insanity. This may be offset if the artist was established enough before the move and retains strong ties to the powers that be. Bruce Nauman‘s reputation seems intact, to say the least. Nonetheless, questions arise. What was the artist getting away from? Maybe crowds, cars, money, or competition? What was the artist attracted to? Maybe open space, horses, or aliens? Are they still playing the game or being escapist? A recent LA Times article claims rightly that lesser-known artists, “the unsung heroes” are poised for a breakthrough thanks to the Pacific Standard Time initiative. According to the Times, included in this group are artists like Ronald Davis. Cover of Artforum in 1966, however, said Davis was “ lauded by art critics…since dropped out of sight… psychiatric problems and his move to New Mexico played a role.” In the regional press, Davis was “back from exile” in 2002 yet still “far from the buzz” in 2004.
Perhaps the boring truth is that he has been leading a relatively solitary artisan lifestyle rather than joining the bienale globe-trotters. Also, tastes change. Dave Hickey, the great defender of beauty who coincidentally currently resides in New Mexico, might point to a late 80’s/early 90’s institutional atmosphere in which distrust of appearance would have temporarily dimmed appreciation of an oeuvre that Davis himself calls “aggressively decorative, meaningless…pretend[ing] to be rational.”
The Southwest might eventually need its own mini Pacific Standard Time (Sun Dial?) to address issues of exclusion and make its case to alter the canon, but it can be painful to sort boosterist fantasy from real virtues. John Baldessari, for one, wishes that as an LA artist he didn’t have to be involved in a “mother always loved you better,” rivalrous sibling dynamic with New York. A case for contemporary art in the Southwest might even have to face themes of magical light and shadow (even Richard Tuttle goes there in the art21 documentary) reincarnation, extra-terrestrials, and the complex role of native and Hispanic mythologies. Since by now legions of artists have made the move, it is prudent for New Mexico to consider the trails leading back to urban origins, and specifically to Los Angeles right now. Charlotte Jackson‘s eye-catching current show, “California Past and Present” includes old and new work by Charles Arnoldi, Tony DeLap, Ed Moses, and Ronald Davis, all of whom are in the Getty exhibition.
The Charlotte Jackson exhibition is both historically resonant and visually loaded. Davis’ 1968 Spindle is of the same rare ilk as the one currently at the Getty, also molded polyester resin and fiberglass from the Dodecagon series. His snazzy 2009 works, acrylic on expanded PVC, still play masterfully with shaped supports, perspectival illusion, and color. Ed Moses is represented with two acrylic and tape works from 1976 based on a diagonal grid in lush blacks and reds at varying speeds, playing accident against control. His 2011 work, acrylic and glue on canvas, is inspired by aging Mondrians in which the pristine geometry is altered by the entropic crackling of age. Tony DeLap’s The Real Secret tweaks the acrylic on canvas relief into an endlessly tricky viewing experience, as if designing an elegant car wreck.
Radius books is another local enterprise engaged in excavation of the Los Angeles/New Mexico connection with the publication of John McCracken: Sketchbook. McCracken moved to New Mexico in 1994, and according to Dike Blair’s fair-minded appraisal, “When discussing his work, [McCracken] speaks of alien visitations, parallel universes and channeled personalities; and, although he has a sense of humor and humility about his visions, in no way is he ironic or apologetic about them. Because the work itself is so profoundly credible, his frame of reference and language is, in fact, refreshing.” Radius has also produced books on two of the other artists in PST and California Past and Present, Charles Arnoldi and Ed Moses.
Who can say who has the last laugh, when men in black descend on the desert to whisk art away to New York or now Los Angeles. May the to and fro continue.