Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Art Since the 1960s: California Experiments at Orange County Museum of Art

The Orange County Museum of Art has a thoughtfully didactic exhibition on view through September 14. Art Since the 1960s: California Experiments is divided into subject areas such as Conceptual Art, Performance, Pop Art, Assemblage and Installation. Each section features prominent California artists as well as documentation of national-profile art actions that took place in Southern California. The work is drawn from OCMA's collection, much of which was acquired through purchases from the old Newport Harbor Biennial under the museum's original moniker, Newport Harbor Museum of Art. It's enlightening to see Orange County positioned at the center of key movements in late 20th century American art, having served as a launching pad for the likes of Chris Burden, Eleanor Antin, Robert Irwin, William Wegman and James Turrell. Some of what's on view is familiar, some surprising.

William Wegman, Selected Works, William Wegman, 1973-74

William Wegman is one of the surprises here. Long known for portraits of his Weimaraners that often cross the line from ironic to kitschy, his early video works demonstrate that at one time he was fully engaged in a critique of 1970s video/performance art. He intelligently skewers Vito Acconci, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman et al through funny videos that work seamlessly as conceptual art. Naturally, the dogs make an appearance. In one film, he impersonates a canine in a parody of Acconci's hyper-aggressive 1971 performance Claim, growling and snarling in the dark. In the next, he lectures his dog Man Ray about spelling errors, as if attempting to trade social roles with the animal.

Tomorrow: Some thoughts on Chris Burden's TV Hijack.