There’s a cultural phenomenon sweeping over the city. It’s a celebratory wave of the arts and more specifically, an appreciation of Southern California’s 1945-1980 art scenes. For the first time ever, more than 60 museums, art spaces, exhibitions and similar institutions are simultaneously showcasing artistic works by local artists and/or works that distinctly capture postwar life out here in the west. The mediums might vary from films, installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings and more, but the objective remains the same: to reveal what life was like in California throughout these four decades. Launched as a Getty initiative, it’s Pacific Standard Time, taking place now until April 2012.
I had my first Pacific Standard Time experience last Thursday, when I joined the Black Journalists Association of Southern California (BJASC) at CSUN’s Art & Design Center for an exclusive preview of the Identity & Affirmation, Post War African-American Photography exhibit, which officially opened to the public on Sunday, October 23rd. During the private reception that evening, about a dozen of us comprehensively discussed the exhibit’s photographs taken by 12 photographers and photojournalists with curator R. Kent Kirkton. We even received a welcomed surprise visit from one of the exhibitor’s photographers Willie Middlebrook (pictured below), who explained his "Selections from the Series, Watts Revisited Beyond the First Look" (1980).
And of course, we eagerly looked at the 125 images on display.
Now between you and me, when I first entered the gallery, I thought to myself: “Hold on, this is it?” Just imagine walking into a nondescript, square room, bare, with nothing but framed photographs fastened to white walls. No eye-catching props or grand architectural statements – just black-and-white photos and walls, surrounded by a black floor and a black ceiling.
But first impressions can be deceiving.
Once I started to actually examine the photos, I found myself spellbound by the scenes that unraveled before me. Here were instances – little flickers in time – of the varied African-American experiences within Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. Some photos were funny, others solemn. Some had subjects confidently beaming towards the camera, others revealed only outlined silhouettes. Yet each photo had its own unique story, demanding us to stand still and watch, and wait for what it was going to tell us.
Some photos offered insight into what it must’ve been like to be a Black Angeleno in this era. There’s the bustling Dunbar Hotel in the 1940s…carefree schoolchildren from diverse backgrounds contently clinging to one other and laughing in the 1950s, as seen in Harry Adams' "Elementary school playground" (1958), pictured below…glimpses of poverty, struggle and stubborn hope in the 1970s, years after the notorious Watts riots.
From working class mechanics to the first Black Rose Parade Queen, from Calvin Hicks' "Venice Beach" (1978) pictured below to Hollywood, it’s interesting to see how the social and physical landscapes have – and really haven’t – changed throughout the decades.
Other photos proudly proved that numerous prominent African-American figures did indeed visit Los Angeles quite often. Jack Davis' "Mahalia Jackson performing at the Los Angeles Coliseum"(1960) shown below highlights the gospel singer putting on what appeared to be a spellbinding concert right in our very own Coliseum.
Learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in my youth, I had always read about him working in the South or on the East Coast. But lo and behold, several photos such as Harry Adams' "Dr. Martin Luther Kings, Jr." (1963) seen below prove that King advocated for equal rights in Los Angeles, basking in our sunny weather and protesting on our downtown streets, just as he would have in Alabama and Georgia.
And even more intriguing, other photos slyly shared private, vulnerable moments with our esteemed, iconic African-American figures, all with Los Angeles as the backdrop. In Charles Williams’ "Johnson Bath House" (1965), Dorothy Dandridge stands on a scale, enwrapped in nothing more than a mere towel, seemingly shocked by the scale’s readings. A young Muhammad Ali compassionately gazes at a young boy whom he holds; Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole, Marie Ellington, Jimmie Hamilton and Harry Carney share a laugh while sitting in the Shrine Auditorium.
It was fun to go through the gallery’s rooms and to recognize faces and places, yet to see them cast in a different time era and setting. I felt like I learned so much in the couple of hours that I spent there. So if you’re interested in photography or historical Los Angeles – if you grew up in the city or want to know what it was like when you weren’t here, I highly recommend paying this photography exhibit a visit. But don’t wait too long – these photos will only be on display until December. See you there soon!
Miss Wilson’s Tips (So You Know "What's Up" When You Go):
- Admission is Free!
- Running Date: October 23, 2011 – December 10, 2011
- Running Date: October 23, 2011 – December 10, 2011
- Art & Design Center hours: Monday-Saturday, 12-4 p.m., except on Thursday, 12-8 p.m. Closed on Sunday.
- CSUN is massive. This exhibit is in The Art & Design Center’s Art Gallery, which is on the north side of the campus. Enter the campus from Halsted St. and park in Student Lot E6 (a Day Parking Pass is $6). Walk west on N. University Dr., and the Art Gallery will be to your right. On this CSUN map, you’ll see Student Lot E6 in the top middle section and the Art Gallery immediately to the left of it.
- It’s not all on the walls! A small television in one of the rooms, pictured below, has rotating photographs from churches and religious events, and a room towards the entrance has a slideshow of about 200 additional images.
- Interesting Fact: CSUN’s Institute for Arts and Media holds 850,000 images from African-American photographers and photojournalists, making it one of the nation’s largest collections.
- So much art, so little time! With more than 60 Pacific Standard Time participants, where do you even start? Answer: on the PST website: http://www.pacificstandardtime.org. Not only is there a list of all exhibitions, but site tools help you find which exhibitions you might like and even makes recommendations on other exhibitions that might interest you, based on what you’ve already checked out. There’s even a section where you can save your preferences.
For more information:
California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330