Project 2

A CULTURAL TIMELINE FOR LOS ANGELES

This past summer, I reported a number of stories related to exhibits that are part of Pacific Standard Time. In doing my research, individual curators and the catalogue essays they produced were extraordinarily helpful in shedding light on the particulars of individual artists and movements. Through my reporting, I discovered that Knud Merrild, a Danish artist based in Los Angeles, produced drip paintings in 1942, five years before Jackson Pollock did the same in New York. I learned that the Chicano art collective Asco staged fictional film stills several years before Cindy Sherman ever touched on the idea. I found out that California artists pioneered large-scale ceramics (the Otis pot shop) and created their own synthetic materials (Valentine resin for Dewain Valentine).

These anecdotes tell an incredible story about the vibrancy of art in Los Angeles in the post war years. And, certainly, Pacific Standard Time is doing an extraordinary job of bringing all of these stories to light in such a concerted way. But the information, to some degree, remains fragmented — buried within individual exhibition catalogues and websites, some of which may become difficult to access as the years pass by. To put a work or a movement in some sort of chronological context requires skipping back and forth between catalogues, historical documents, websites and news articles.

Proposal:
I propose building an L.A. cultural timeline that could serve as an ongoing tool for journalists working on stories related to art and culture that in some way touch on L.A. This could be a straightforward timeline, organized by year or, if the programming allows, a searchable database site that is coded with keywords and tags.

In terms of content, it would include key L.A. cultural happenings. Examples: the date that Chris Burden shot himself in the name of performance art, Andy Warhol’s historic soup can show at the Ferus Gallery, John Baldessari’s first solo exhibit at the now defunct Molly Barnes Gallery. Naturally, the idea is to include a cross-section of important cultural happenings: dance performances, punk concerts, literary milestones.

But it would also include entries for lesser-known, equally important achievements — that drip canvas by Knud Merrild, the date that Asco began producing the No Movie photos, the first piece that Dewain Valentine made using his signature resin. In the mix, we could include a few key artistic milestones from around the country and the world: Pollock’s first drip painting, Rauschenberg’s first combine, Vito Acconci’s notorious performance, Seedbed.

The idea is to create an evergreen research tool that shows how L.A.’s cultural history fits into the broader history of the culture — a tool that journalists, writers and researchers can recur to whenever they are looking to place something within a space and time. Want to know what else was going on in the Southern California cultural universe when Chris Burden shot himself in the arm? Want to know when the first finish fetish sculpture was created? Do you need to figure out if Larry Bell was making his boxes before or after Donald Judd? This would be the place to look.

Because of the web format, entries can be brief (as in Twitter-length) and include links to outside sources. This also provides the flexibility of creating a format that can be updated and added to in the future. And, naturally, we can add Twitter and Facebook buttons to allow outsiders to share and disseminate the information.

Creating this piece would not constitute a traditional journalistic enterprise (reporting on news and then writing about it). It’s more along the lines of database building. But I think it could result in the creation of a tool that will be of service to journalists for years to come.