rebels in paradise


For contemporary art in the 1950s and ’60s, there was New York and that was it. So the old story goes. But it’s wrong. If there’s one thing that recent globally minded art history has taught us, it’s that after World War II, new art, and lots of it, was turning up in cities every­where. Los Angeles was one, and in the late ’50s, almost to its own surprise, it had a big art moment. That moment, which lasted about a decade, is the subject of “Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s,” by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp. The book has much to recommend it: it’s fast-paced, well researched, accessibly anecdotal. But as an account of a still under­studied episode in American postwar culture, it’s oddly lopsided. It corrects one imbalance — the “only in New York” idea — but ignores ­others. The story starts in 1955, when Los Angeles was a boomtown thanks to movies and the aerospace industry, but a cultural backwater. There were plenty of homegrown artists, but few galleries and no modern art museum. Into this bare terrain came a couple of driven personalities. One of them, Walter Hopps, preppy and bespectacled, was a college dropout and art addict. The other, Edward Kienholz, was a bearish farm boy-artist with a peppery temperament. On the surface, their alliance was an unlikely one — Mr. Peepers meets Bigfoot — but it worked.

more from Holland Cotter at the NYT here.