Pushing at the edges of its history of exhibiting California Plein Air Painting, The Outsiders at the Irvine Museum depicts the first influences of European art on California’s art scene. Here are examples of the west coast’s nascent modernists, showing the influences of cubism in Frank Meyers’ depiction of the scrimmage line (above), and surrealism in Rex Brandt’s vision of a railroad water station on a windy day.
Having been fed the myth of Ed Ruscha (and others) rolling in from the Midwest to capture a piece of the California Dream (while giving LA a slice of Modernism it could call its own), I've grown more interested in the Cool School precursors--those artists who taught, painted, and begat California's its nascent art scene.
The work on display at the Irvine Museum doesn't show formal connections to the Light and Space or Finnish Fetish art to come, but I expect much in the way of dedication to one's artistic and political ideals--while putting food on the table and canvas on the stretcher bars--was passed along. Later works in the exhibition were made in the days of the Works Progress Administration, and fittingly depict petroleum works, San Pedro’s fishing fleet, and the urban streetscapes of Los Angeles. In the middle years of the 20th century, art making was a legitimate form of labor--along with teaching, painting and illustrating for the movie studios, and decorating public buildings with government-subsidized murals.
Stepping outside the museum will remind viewers that in addition to modernism’s displacement of the landscape tradition, we also have office towers replacing the frolicking horses and rolling brown hills of Orange County, and stucco McMansions in place of working class faux cottages in the Hollywood foothills. While Los Angeles has had a storied history of generating myth, for the artists included in The Outsiders, it didn't include being picked up by a major gallery straight out of art school, or becoming an art star via reality TV programming.
The Outsiders, Modernism in California 1920 - 1940 is on view at the Irvine Museum through September 26, 2009. Admission and parking are free.
Hamilton Wolf's Halos