Out of Sight

The Los Angeles Art Scene of the Sixties

Publication Date: Apr 14, 2015

256 pp


List Price US $27.95
Trim Size (H x W): 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781590514115


List Price US $27.95
ISBN: 9781590514122

A social and cultural history of Los Angeles and its emerging art scene in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s

The history of modern art typically begins in Paris and ends in New York. Los Angeles was out of sight and out of mind, viewed as the apotheosis of popular culture, not a center for serious art.

Out of Sight chronicles the rapid-fire rise, fall, and rebirth of L.A.’s art scene, from the emergence of a small bohemian community in the 1950s to the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1980. Included are some of the most influential artists of our time: painters Edward Ruscha and Vija Celmins, sculptors Ed Kienholz and Ken Price, and many others.

A book about the city as much as it is about the art, Out of Sight is a social and cultural history that illuminates the ways mid-century Los Angeles shaped its emerging art scene—and how that art scene helped remake the city.

Excerpt from Out of Sight

What Los Angeles–based artists lacked in sophistication, they made up for in brio, independence, and resourcefulness. Far from the competitive pressures of the New York scene—its self-conscious wrestling with modernist theory and the legacy of Abstract Expressionism—artists in Los Angeles felt freer than their New York counterparts to explore issues not preordained by the critical priesthood. “The beauty of growing up in California at this moment in time,” [Robert] Irwin insisted, was “that you [had] very little dead weight . . . All the things that New Yorkers would say to me was wrong with California—the lack of culture, place, sense of the city, and all that—is exactly why I was here. It was very possible to entertain the future here.” That sense of freedom was contagious among artists in Los Angeles. Unencumbered by prescriptive regimes, the most important artists to emerge in sixties L.A. saw little need to defend or justify their work according to genre or style.

Writing in the Nation in 1964, Max Kozloff identified two basic tendencies in Southern California art, the “Sterilized” and the “Sweaty.” These different strains, he added, were “more physiological than stylistic.” Compared to what most New York critics were saying at that point, Kozloff’s appraisal nearly qualified as a rave. Over the years, other writers have made more or less the same point, though in somewhat more flattering terms: “clean” and “dirty”; “sunshine” and “noir.” All are to some extent variations, I think, on “Classicism” and “Romanticism.” But whatever you want to call it, the dualist approach made sense. Los Angeles artists in the 1960s did seem to fall into two camps: one that feverishly explored the “dark underside” of modern society, and another that unreservedly embraced the region’s natural beauty as well as the city’s upbeat, sometimes delirious consumer culture. But that insight has by now hardened into a cliché. In truth, the distinctions between the two camps were never so clear-cut.

“In Out of Sight, William Hackman calls 1962 Los Angeles’s annus mirabilis…[Out of Sight] capture[s] the era…comprehensively and clearly.”The Wall Street Journal

“It has the texture of life as it is actually lived…One of [Outs of Sight’s] chief pleasures is Hackman’s careful and extensive use of the voluminous oral histories that have been recorded over decades by artists, dealers, critics, collectors, curators and more, and which are archived at UCLA, the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art and elsewhere. The author also has a personal trove of interviews he conducted, some more than 25 years ago. Sundry distinct voices are stitched together to shape the unfolding narrative.” —The Los Angeles Times

“[A] fascinating new history of the 1960s Los Angeles art scene… Hackman has written [LA] it back in [to the story].”The Guardian US Online

“A deeply absorbing account of the midcentury years during which Los Angeles’s once-marginal art scene transformed into a prominent locus of the avant-garde. …The author’s prose is engaging, infused with deft turns of phrase…A thoroughly researched history of a great city’s creative zeitgeist, recalling a time when art and artists were more accessible; this will appeal to anyone interested in contemporary art.” —Library Journal

“Enjoyable and well-researched.” —Publishers Weekly

“William Hackman’s Out of Sight is an intelligent, incisive, never-facile account of the California art scene and its romantic beginnings in the ’50s and ’60s. Read this book if you want to know about Ken Price, Vija Celmins, Ed Ruscha, and Bruce Nauman or, in other words, if you want to know about America’s coolest artists.” —Deborah Solomon, author of American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell

“When I started reading this beautifully crafted study of L.A. art from 1950 to 1975, I worried that this would be yet another celebratory account. William Hackman’s book surprised and delighted me as the story grew darker and explored the many tragic turns that sapped the creative explosion of the postwar years. Seldom has a history of art in California captured so well the conflict of egos that grand ambitions quickened. Rooted in the particulars of Los Angeles, the story is relevant for understanding cultural movements in communities across the country, and perhaps in other countries as well. Hackman shows how much what was genuinely new in what artists, curators, and collectors did in Los Angeles expressed the uniqueness of place, but could what they discovered find acceptance on the international stage? Ultimately, this is a study of how, whatever one might want to believe in the universality of the creative process, the local and the global failed to synchronize. The book ends in the mid-1970s, but so much of what Hackman tells his readers points to later developments. It is a book that can be profitably read for what it tells us about culture today.” —Richard Cándida Smith, author of The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century

“Los Angeles has always been the art world’s great white hope. William Hackman’s Out of Sight does a wonderful job of conveying the roots of that promise.” —Richard Polsky, author of I Sold Andy Warhol. (Too Soon)

“A great read . . . passionately argued.” —Patricia Albers, author of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

“William Hackman’s writing on Los Angeles in the 1960s is as full of the lucidity and subtly cosmic interrogation as the art of Bengston, Ruscha, Cjelmins, and others that he takes as his subject. His explanations are careful and passionate, his tone piercing and happy to challenge accepted wisdom on the artists and the city around them.” —Jonathan Woollen, Politics & Prose (Washington, DC)

“Few books bring together soon-to-be established post-war artists like Edward Ruscha, Vija Celmins, Billy Bengston, Ed Kienholz, and Judy Chicago with the art schools, collectors, curators and agents who shaped the culture quite as well as Out of Sight. William Hackman’s history examines the Los Angeles art scene as it transforms from a place of cultural irrelevance to one with a distinctive identity. As a former art student, I greatly appreciated Hackman’s engaging approach to this fascinating period in LA history.” —Richard Fox, Roscoe Books (Chicago, IL)

“In Out of Sight, William Hackman deftly charts the genealogy of the city’s art scene to reveal a complex network of practitioners, gallerists, and patrons, all intent on celebrating the challenging of assumptions surrounding celebrity, civil rights, site, commerce, and institutional acceptance. This book is a most welcome disruption to a body of art historical texts that privilege tried and true cultural meccas such as Paris and New York City.” —Adam Sonderberg, Seminary Co-op Bookstores (Chicago, IL)

“I lived through that wild decade of art in L.A., and Out of Sight gives an exceedingly clear, well-organized and entertaining insight into the thrilling goings-on. Not only does William Hackman describe the personalities (and their clashes) involved in the new galleries, museums, and art schools, but he also elucidates the various concepts artists were striving for. Above all, he conveys the artists’, their dealers’ and the collectors’ idiosyncratic brilliance. This book is terrific.” —Diane Leslie, Diesel, A Bookstore (Brentwood, CA)

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