Perhaps the least publicized element of Pacific Standard Time is the scholarship and catalogues published in conjunction with many of the PST exhibitions. Many of them contribute mightily to our understanding of post-war art in America. This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I’ll feature excerpts from catalogues published as part of Pacific Standard Time. Today: “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970,” which was co-organized by the Orange County Museum of Art and the Berkeley Art Museum, where it opens on Feb. 29. I recently wrote about the exhibition for Modern Painters magazine and it’s been the subject of numerous posts here and on 3rd of May.
“State of Mind” is the best kind of revisionist exhibition, one that challenges our ideas about previously understood art histories. The exhibition is especially strong in revealing how many familiar artistic strategies had their genesis in California in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an area that was probably then the world’s leading hotbed of conceptual practice. I was struck by how often the catalogue ended chapters or segments with some form of this locution: “[M]any of the artists from the 1990s whoa re cited as part of the international relational aesthetics movement invoked the interactive works of this earlier period, especially those of [Allen] Ruppersberg and [Tom] Marioni.” Especially given the ephemeral nature of much of the work examined by the show, this may be the most important Pacific Standard Time-related catalogue.
I could probably quote ten similar examples, but here’s just one. From Constance M. Lewallen’s discussion of California-based performance art:
Perhaps no other female artist, with the possible exception of Yoko Ono in her 1965 performance Cut Piece, put herself more on the line to challenge received notions of female passivity and to test the limits of artist-viewer relationship than Los Angeles-based artist Barbara T. Smith in Feed Me, a performance included in “All Night Sculptures” at MOCA in San Francisco. [At right: Performance documentation.] On April 20-21, 1973, in a simulated boudoir, Smith allowed visitors, one by one, to enter a small space — in which she lay fully exposed — and to interact with her as they chose. On an audiocassette her voice repeated, “Feed me, feed me.” By intentionally leaving herself vulnerable to any interaction, including sexual intercourse, she shifted the responsibility for behavior onto the mostly male participants. Although at the time some saw this as counter to feminist principles, for Smith it was both a method of self-transformation and “a negation of male conquest.” Feed Me anticipated Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm O (1974), in which Abramovic also assumed a passive role vis-a-vis the public, who were free to use on her any of seventy-two objects — some pleasure giving, others that would inflict pain.