WCMA show catches Los Angeles vibe


WILLIAMSTOWN -- The playwright Neil Simon once wrote, "When it’s 100 degrees in New York, it’s 72 in Los Angeles. When it’s 30 degrees in New York, in Los Angeles it’s still 72. However, there are 6 million interesting people in New York, and only 72 in Los Angeles."

The title for the Williams College Museum of Art’s new exhibit, "72 Degrees," comes from this quote.

"I think it’s sort of a playful way to set up that New York-LA paradigm," said Kathryn Price, curator of the "72 Degrees" exhibit. "I love that it evokes that warm feeling and the images of surf, palm trees and sand."

The "72 Degrees" exhibition is a companion show to WCMA’s current primary show, "Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980."

In "72 Degrees," Price draws on WCMA’s rich collection of Los Angeles art, telling a parallel and complementary story of Los Angeles.

"I didn’t realize this until Kellie Jones [curator of "Now Dig This"] came to help install ‘Now Dig This,’ but it’s highly unusual for a museum on the East Coast to have such strong work in LA-based art, particularly for a college," she said. "We’re always looking for different ways to present our collection and highlight different areas."

Many of these works, which were collected and donated by alumni in the 1970s and 1980s, will be exhibited in "72 Degrees" for the first time.

"It’s a really rich picture of LA," Price said. "It was such an exciting time to be working in Los Angeles. Artists were gravitating to that time and place."

She highlights the work in a gallery of assemblage, collage, and photo montage, another about the look and feel of L.A., the material culture -- light, sun, and sand -- and a third gallery of photography -- conceptual photography, architectural photography, and photography of the people of Los Angeles.

Price enjoyed pairing photographs from ASCO, a conceptual group of artists, with work by Ger van El.

"He would go around the city and use his body, much like the ASCO artists did," she said. "He used a sign with an ‘O’ on it and made his body into the letter ‘K,’ so that the photograph reads, ‘OK.’ "

The architecture of Los Angeles also inspired many artists.

"This is a photograph of old Hollywood," Price said, by photographer Grant Mudford. "It looks like it might be the façade for a movie, but you can see just enough on the side to see the street."

Photographs by artists like Gary Winnegrand capture the people and fashion of Rodeo Drive and Venice Beach.

"It evokes that southern California vibe," Price said.

The natural light of the Rotunda, especially on a sunny day, helps evoke the feel of Los Angeles in the gallery devoted to light and space. One of the trends in the light and space movement in Los Angeles was the "finish fetish" -- a fascination with glossy, smooth materials that suggest the shiny cars of LA.

Having these pieces out in the natural light can also help illuminate different aspects of the pieces.

Pointing out a translucent blue egg-shaped sculpture by artist Helen Pashigan, Price said, "We didn’t realize until we brought it out yesterday that the sculpture was divided into three sections. We had always thought it was this solid blue color, but instead there are these clearer portions. She would put things in the resin to create these shapes."

Assemblage, a three-dimensional version of collage, creates work out of found objects, juxtaposing them in new ways. George Herms’ "Libra (from the Zodiac series)" is "just this crazy ‘tossed salad,’ as he called it, an amalgamation of found objects and poetry and text," Price said.

"Bunny, Bunny, You’re So Funny," a sculpture by Edward Kienholz, shows a woman’s body from the waist down to her thighs, turned on its side. Inside the body rests a headless baby doll.

"His wife at the time had had an illegal abortion, more than 10 years before the passing of Roe v. Wade," Price said. "The school administrators at Cal State Northridge refused to exhibit it, saying it was indecent."

If you go ...

What: ’72 Degrees’ exhibit at Williams College Museum of Art

When: Exhibit runs through Dec. 1

Where: 15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Williamstown

Admission: Free

Information: wcma.williams.edu


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