Tonight I walked with Craig Kauffman through the snow-covered streets of Zürich’s old town, a picturesque Swiss city of small shops, cozy cafes, libraries and restaurants. We were invited to a party, and Craig and I were the only people from L.A.
We’ve just attended the opening for an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Actually, there were three shows assembled into one. Joined together, the “Hot Spots” meta-exhibition provides a look at three centers of art during the period of 1956 to 1969. Each city-center comes off as a harbinger of global contemporary art, rather than a regional phenomenon. It is generally accepted that early 20th century advances in painting and other arts were centered in Paris, followed by the dominance of New York in the post-World War II era. However, in this exhibition, none of the cities are named New York or Paris. It is also generally accepted that we have been (for the past decade or so) in an era of global exchange of artistic ideas, hastened by the proliferation of art fairs, the rise of emerging economies, and the rapid dissemination of digital information and images. It takes a European institution to have this curatorial vision—of the precursors to our current art world, and how they came to emerge outside of the dominant centers. Or, perhaps in takes two museums—the Kunsthaus Zürich is the host for the shows that were organized by Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.
Los Angeles’ emergence as a world center for contemporary art was paralleled by developments on other continents. Strong movements in art, music, architecture and design in such cities as Rio de Janeiro, Milan and Turin marked the period following World War II. The heat of artistic activity can create new territory—hot spots—and the curators document that. What I sensed, a cross-pollination of international avant-garde, is evident in the selection and the presentation. It was amazing to see the concurrent global movements, such as geometric abstraction, the use of industrial materials, and the appropriation of popular culture.
Italian painters Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni are exemplary members of the Milan group that developed a monochromatic, minimal painting style. Within the decade of 1958 to 1968, other experimentations with shaped canvases and spatial concepts broke with the legacy of Italian art. In Turin, the Arte Povera artists used natural and artificial materials to characterize their works.
Brazilian design was created during this same time, and it featured a concise formal invention and an emphasis on construction. Leadership came from figures like Oscar Niemeyer. Rio de Janeiro’s experimental atmosphere gave the world new music and architecture, under the names of New Concretism, Bossa Nova, and Cinema Novo.
Los Angeles’ incredibly fertile period is represented in architecture, assemblage, painting, photography and sculpture. This is the fourth time that Craig Kauffman has been represented in shows about the formative years of Los Angeles. First, there was the Sunshine and Noir exhibit at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark, which covered the years 1960-1997. Next was the Pompidou’s Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Artistic Captial. Last year’s Time and Place: Los Angeles was organized by the Moderna Museet and is one part of this three-segment show. On the way back to our hotel, Kauffman and I wondered aloud: Perhaps it is the perspective of time that gives clarity to the view. Forty to fifty years later, we can see the emergent global contemporary art world.