Review: In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945–1980 (The Getty Center)

Los Angeles International Airport (1964) Garry Winogrand. Gelatin silver print 13 1/2 x 9 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. © 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand © 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand

On my previous visit to the Getty, In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980,  was just about to open. So I was eagerly anticipating the exhibit on this trip. Ultimately, I was disappointed.

There are several wonderful images included, for example Garry Winogrand’s “Los Angeles International Airport”; and (my favorite) William Garnett’s “Plaster and Roofing, Lakewood, California”. But the exhibit as a whole left me feeling shortchanged.

There are only 25 photographs, in one small room, in the exhibit. Philosophically, the design of the exhibit can’t be questioned. The images are  grouped around “the themes of experimental photography, vernacular architecture, car culture, and fantasy and the film industry.” But I find it hard to believe that the Getty does not own or could not find a broader selection of photographs representing each of these areas during a most dynamic period in Los Angeles’ history, 1945-1980.

Plaster and Roofing, Lakewood, California (1950). William A. Garnett. Gelatin silver print 19.5 x 24.3 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. © Estate of William A. Garnett © Estate of William A. Garnett

While these four themes do represent the multidimensional dynamics of Los Angeles – and though admittedly Los Angeles is a fascinating city – a broader assumption of the exhibit’s organizers begs argument.

It is immediately apparent that no city has ever been produced by such an extraordinary mixture of geography, climate, economics, demography, mechanics and culture; nor is it likely that an even remotely similar mixture will ever occur again.
Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, 1971

But that’s quite a stretch! is that not true for most – or all – of the world’s great cities, and even a few of the not-so-great? Why do cities develop where/when/how they do? Is it not usually the “mixture of geography, climate, economics, demography, mechanics and culture”?

As disappointing as I found In Focus: Los Angeles at the Getty Center, the exhibit if part of a much grander city-wide scheme that is both bold and exciting. Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980 – Website here – features coordinated showings of Los Angeles art, design, and culture of 1945-1980 at more than sixty galleries, museums, and other centers  from San Diego to Santa Barbara.  A small but information-packed catalog of all the exhibits is available at the Getty.

Pacific Standard Time runs through April. In Focus: Los Angeles 1945-1980 exhibit at the Getty Center runs through May 6, 2012. The Getty Center, Los Angeles.