There is a paradox in attempting to define Los Angeles art both past and present. In fact, the problem of definition is a broader one and is related to the nature of the city itself. The moment one tries to pinpoint what exactly Los Angeles is, one simplifies and distorts its complex diversity. Likewise, Los Angeles art of the recent past, which at its best is unsettling, broadens and challenges long established constructs of post-World War II art history. For example, L.A. artists such as Ed Ruscha, Judy Chicago, and Raymond Pettibon defy simple categorization. Is Ruscha a Pop or Conceptual artist? How are Chicago’s Minimalist sculptures and smoke performances related to her Feminist art? Where do Pettibon’s punk album covers fit in relation to postmodernism? Two recent art exhibitions, the Centre Pompidou’s Los Angeles 1955-1985: A Birth of an Artistic Capital and Translucence: Southern California Art from the 1960s and 1970s at the Norton Simon Museum, offer us divergent approaches to displaying and understanding Los Angeles’ art history. Where the Pompidou’s large-scale retrospective in Paris attempts to make sense of thirty years of L.A. art, the Norton Simon exhibition in Pasadena, California, focuses on a small group of like-minded artists working roughly at the same time. Though remarkably different in scale and approach, both exhibitions expand our understanding of what is, and can be, the value of Los Angeles art.
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