In the 1950’s and early 1960’s Los Angeles was in the process of developing its own contemporary art identity. Using Ferus Gallery and Dana Point as meeting grounds, a handful of artist/surfers regularly gathered exchanging energy and ideas. As artist Ken Price recalls, “This was a time when the entire L.A. art scene could fit into one room.” L.A.’s place in contemporary art was about to rise and the city’s own geography and topography would play a key role in developing a context for its burgeoning cultural identity.
A rapidly expanding city in the desert by the sea, Los Angeles was a natural Mecca for surfing and hot rod racing. What few elements of an art scene that existed in Southern California were absorbed into the surf and car cultures which themselves thrived upon aesthetic obsession. The “Finish Fetish Movement” was an art trend that grew out of the aesthetics of surfboard forms and hot rod finishes. Resins, plastics, auto lacquers, and spray enamels had replaced traditional brush and oil. A fascination with new technology would marry the goals of artists with the means of chemists. Proximity to the California Institute of Technology and its aerospace technology afforded these artists immediate access to innovative fabrication solutions. “The artists were leading the chemists,” recalls artist Helen Pashgian, who was herself a dual major in art and chemistry at C.I.T. as well as a lifelong surfer.”Light and Space” was a theme that galvanized a diverse group of artists whose works reflected upon a palette born from the desert, the sea, and the smog-infused sunsets upon coastal horizons. The “Light and Space” artists included painters and sculptors who used a vast variety of materials, elements and processes, some of which were invented specifically for the creation of an individual artwork.
Among these artists were a few whose works (mainly sculpture) were characterized by monochromatic or achromatic geometric forms and non-expressionist textures. While not primarily aligned at that time with the Minimalist Movement contemporaneously developing in New York, it can be said that a reductivist approach to the making of objective, abstract sculpture was shared by artists on both coasts.
The four artists included in this show– Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, and John McCracken represent a small, but significant selection from among those Los Angeles artists working in this manner. Each is groundbreaking in his unprecedented uses of materials and forms and each produced work distinctly different from the other. Because these artists were represented by rival Los Angeles galleries, Ferus and Nicholas Wilder, they were rarely exhibited together at the time the work was made despite their common pursuits. Looking back on this work through this focussed selection reveals these artists’ distinct minimalist tendencies.