Los Angeles Post WWII Art: Engaging European Traditions With So Cal’s Unique Expressions

  • Curators and artists collaborated together to create an exhibition where Made in L.A. 2012 could successfully tap into the trend-setting vision of L.A.-based artists/arts administrators who offered the seminal PST exhibition.  Southern California post-WWII artists looked somewhat passively to NYC and European art centers–London, Berlin, Paris–as they wrestled with their distinctive nuances of the time within which they were living.  The Ferus Gang were confident that their generation of American West Coast artists did not need to continue to pay allegiance to apprenticeships either nationally or internationally.  Such thinking to them was both humiliating and condescending to their distinctive aesthetic beliefs.  PST and Made in L.A. 2012  are two exhibitions of note that thoroughly close the book on So Cal or West Coast artists needing to subvert themselves to the constancy of the past.
  • Thomas Gaehtgens of the Getty stated the following in PST:
  • “In Los Angeles, a very distinct engagement with European artistic traditions merged with California art’s unique expression of openness, mobility, modernity, individuality, light, and color to create a new aesthetic, one well suited to an innovative style of West Coast living. During the 1960s and 1970s, political activism and resistance spurred artists to new fields of discovery.”
  • What are your thoughts on a prevailing cultural expectation that American artists were compelled, by the general public, to look to NYC and the Art centers of Western Europe to sustain constancy with the past which So Cal artists rejected with a firm stamp of disapproval?
  • Steven Von Huene, Tap Dance, 1967

Author: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

14 thoughts on “Los Angeles Post WWII Art: Engaging European Traditions With So Cal’s Unique Expressions”

  1. The Cal artist rejected NYC art that they felt rebellious and wanted to create something new that was trending around LA. However, the culture in American was that LA was a backdoor watering hole compare to NYC and that LA art was very hard to persuade people to that style and keep them engaged.

    Like

  2. I think the Ferus Gang and artists that separated from the expectation to carry on Eastern US and European traditional art were right to do so. The Ferus Gang’s firm stamp of disapproval forced them to take influences and inspiration from sources other than art from the past. There was inspiration from reality that was turned into surrealism and an aesthetic that was never before seen. This separation from the tree that was traditional art allowed the Ferus Gang to plant a tree of their own that branched out to the contemporary artists that they eventually inspired. I feel like it was about time to avert the cultural expectation of artists and I thank the Ferus Gang for dong so.

    Like

  3. When thinking about my response I can distinctly relate this situation of the Ferus Group disregarding inspiration from NYC and Europe to early American art history because in the beginning colonial art did not have its own unique style. Rather, the colonist frequently derived inspiration from Europe and more specifically Great Britain since they were a counterpart at the time. Slowly but surely the United States began to develop it’s own distinguished style when it came to art. The same things can be said about the Ferus group in SoCal. In order to be successful you do not have to copy the same methods and techniques as more established entities. It is even more refreshing to see something new and something different which would therefore make It just as, if not more popular. This is what made the Ferus Group so successful in their endeavors. They aspired to be original and chose not to conform to the expectations and standards of art at the time.

    Like

  4. A large part of it I think had to do with the types of cultures that existed in LA versus NYC. New York City was full of more Easter European immigrants as well as a culture more focused on industrialization and new trends. The West Coast has always been about independence and freedom, it’s a deeply ingrained trait (the entire West Coast was basically founded on explorers and pioneers).
    Because the East Coast is where our country was originally founded, where all the “origins” of culture is (schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc), there is this weird notion that that is where one must look to for everything.
    Although the West Coast has a less long history, there is an integrity and independence there.

    Like

  5. The fact that the Ferus Group didn’t conform to any other expectations of art is what makes them so successful. It’s what makes them stand out from any other artists of that time. They brought new and inspiring styles of art that made a huge impact in LA. If they were to conform to the expectations of art in NYC or the European countries, they would probably still be great artists but ultimately there wouldn’t be anything special about them.

    Like

  6. The prevailing cultural expectation was based on the public’s limited understanding of art and their acceptance of what was considered art from those with unlimited financial resources. The LA area is unique in its climate and geography, it presents a different way of life that’s casual yet rugged, provocative and free-spirited. Defending and celebrating this individuality against this cultural expectation is, I believe, what motivated the Los Angeles artists – it enhanced their awareness of what and how they wanted to express their art.

    Like

  7. I applaud So Cal artists for rejecting this expectation. If they didn’t, art would never change and the creative part of creation would be lost and technical skill would be all that mattered in the end. It was brave of artist trying to make it professionally to refrain from getting a stamp of approval from elite art schools or famous artist from New York or Europe. They knew what they wanted and decided to follow their hearts and minds and try to make it on their own. They did not play it safe and with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, it paid off.

    Like

  8. I don’t think the artists of LA needed to look at New York or Western Europe – they obviously did not think so either. LA has its own culture and its own unique style, and the artists knew that it was important to reflect upon that unique culture and build upon it with their art. The LA artists of the 60s were moving away from the norm in order to redefine what the public perceives as art. I personally enjoy the rebellion and innovation associated with the Los Angeles artists of the 50s and 60s. I think it is very important to continue to innovate and practice new ideas, especially in creative endeavors. It may not always be accepted at first, but it is an important stepping stone in the creation of art history.

    Like

  9. So Cal artists rejection of New York and Western European art is a vital part of art history. Without this rejection, LA would not be the place it is today. LA is filled with so much art and culture and I think a part of that comes from So Cal artists rejecting the expectations of looking at NYC and Western Europe art. Throughout art history, we have seen artists continually reject certain movements and styles and for the most part this has worked in their favor. If So Cal artists embraced NYC and Western European art for the sake of consistency from the past, art today would be very different. In fact, I believe that if they did not reject these expectations, art in LA would be nonexistent, or at least it would not be flourishing the same way it is now.

    Like

  10. The SoCal artists rejection of European and New York art was an organic step in their movement. Los Angeles is known for starting trends and not conforming to others and the artists actions of rebellion reflected their environment. Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to others and in a sense the SoCal artists did just that. Not following the norm is what made these artists stand out. If they followed the public expectation they would not be who they were. We should applaud those who push the boundaries, because without them ingenuity would not exist.

    Like

  11. Just because it may be the cultural expectation to do something a certain way doesn’t make it the right thing to do for everyone. We all have our own way of doing things. That’s what makes art unique and interesting. If creating something in a way that is different than the cultural norm works out better for the piece, then do it. We must not allow ourselves to restrict our ways in which we create our art based on how we think others will view it. When we try out new things, it allows for our creativity to grow. The public may not know that something new could add value to their culture until they experience and understand it for themselves. When the Ferus Group went against cultural expectations and did their own thing, they allowed future artists to stay true to who they are and create without expectations and we have them to thank to this day.

    Like

  12. To look towards NYC or Europe would only hinder artistic expression, What the artists had done was the right choice as it had helped them develop their own unique voice in which they could be taken seriously by the general public and those in the art world. I believe this is something they saw as well, for them to look towards these places would have meant kneeling to your opponent like in a fencing match. They held their own and excelled in order to create something unique and held with wide regard among those in the art world. It is because of these type of rejections that new works and styles can flourish.

    Like

  13. I feel that society is born and bread to instantly disagree with anyone who breaks from the norm. People only looked to NYC and Western Europe, because they were doing what was normal for years and as soon as some artists in other parts of the globe where changing things up, peoples instant reaction was again to do what was normal and put it down.
    This goes back to the thought of being a “rebel” and breaking from the statue quo to innovate and push wild ideas. These ideas may not always work, but if society never tried to use their imagination then we would still be in the Paleolithic era of creating. I think what Southern California did was what I call the “Californian Creative Style” and that is to simple make things “cool”. They couldn’t seem to stand that stuffy, up tight feeling art was producing at the time and instead brought a wild, crazy and cool factor to their art pieces.

    Like

  14. Like I mentioned before in one of my posts, New York Artists made art with thought and brains, LA artists made theirs with heart and gut. A lot more feelings than thinking for the LA artists. The So Cal artist were not afraid of change, did not follow the rules because they did not have any rules.
    Again, for them it was more about a “felling” than “thinking”. Perhaps rejection made them better and stronger in their traits. It forced them to look outside of the box, using different techniques and materials. Somewhat cliché but very true in this case…”What does not kill you makes you stronger”. That phrase is very accurate for the SoCal art scene in my opinion. Liz made a great point too (Elizabeth Molina), “The prevailing cultural expectation was based on the public’s limited understanding of art and their acceptance of what was considered art from those with unlimited financial resources.” We can see this today in some social aspects of society in the case of gay marriage for example.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s