Kissed by Angels presents a small selection of paintings, prints and sculptures by artists who lived in the Los Angeles area beginning in the 1960s, mounted to complement the concurrent exhibition, Vija Celmins: Television and Disasters, 1964–1966. Organized from the museum’s holdings and Houston-based collections, it offers the chance to see work by Celmins’s contemporaries also making art in Southern California, including Larry Bell, Joe Goode, John McCracken, Ed Ruscha, Ken Price.
Beginning in the 1960s, artists in the emerging and vibrant Los Angeles scene developed a new vocabulary that was entirely their own. Influenced by a sprawling city of freeways and sunshine, the Cool School, as it came to be known, was defined in a 1964 essay by Philip Leider in Artforum magazine, which was originally published from that city. In California, Leider wrote, artists were critiquing the mass media’s infiltration of the visual landscape by adopting the visual form of advertising and mass-produced goods. The California artists, however, were responding with a literally cooler look, based on what Leider argued was “a hatred of the superfluous, a drive toward compression, a precision of execution.”
Less boisterous, subtler, and more economical than the iteration of Pop Art on the East Coast, it was deeply influenced by the city’s light and arid climate. For example, Ed Ruscha’s painting, Kissed By Angels, 1980, which provides the title for this show, shows a long horizon with a deep orange and hazy sky at sunset. Set in the dark silhouetted hills slicing the bottom of the composition is the barely discernible text of the painting’s title. Unlike the white letters of the iconic Hollywood sign, the more discrete pronouncement, like the work from this time and place, is a quiet and cool poetic statement.
Photos: Paul Hester