To tell the broad story of art in Southern California after World War II, the Getty’s setting a giant table.

The feast of architecture, film, minimalism, pop, design, light installations and performances stretches to more than 60 museums, and a slew of galleries beside, all over the massive Southern California landscape, from San Diego to Santa Barbara. It features throngs of artists encompassing over four decades’ worth of art and creativity.

The Getty, one of the world’s wealthiest arts organizations, launched officially this weekend the “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980” collaboration. Though you might more readily think of New York City as the home of groundbreaking visual art, this postwar period spawned forceful, influential worldwide movements from L.A. and Southern California artists.

People in Berlin know this, and in Paris and in New York, organizers say. The Getty wants to make sure that you, its neighbors in Southern California, know that.

And you don’t even have to go to L.A. to dig in. San Diego has two museums participating, representing vastly different schools of thought.

One show takes over huge rooms with light projections and holes cut in walls, luminous sculptures and neon pieces that trick your eyes and may spark you to think about the way you see and perceive things.

The other is all about craft and design — finely handmade objects, home decoration and things we use in daily life like furniture and bowls and jewelry.

The first show, of light and space, is one of the crown jewels in the Getty’s regional effort. Superlatives swirled around its opening a couple of weeks ago. It’s the biggest show the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego has ever mounted. The accompanying book is filled with research funded by a big grant from the Getty.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this is the most highly anticipated show in ‘Pacific Standard Time,’” said Joan Weinstein, associate director of the Getty Foundation, speaking to reporters after museum director Hugh Davies introduced her and kissed her on the cheek.

The contemporary art museum devoted a huge swath of its downtown and its La Jolla locations to install the show, called “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface.” This museum is the oldest museum of contemporary art in Southern California. It has for decades been the place many of the renowned artists praised in this regional survey had their first show, or sold work to. The museum takes a broad look at more than a dozen creators of sometimes sculpted objects, sometimes giant, room-sized art pieces that can blow your mind by playing with what you see and think you see. One of the most significant artists in the show is Robert Irwin, who’s lived in San Diego for decades.

Here’s an example of the kind of work in the “Phenomenal” show:

Like this one:

Photo by Sam Hodgson
“Wedgework V,” 1975, by James Turrell, on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

Meanwhile, at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, the focus is on tangible, often usable objects — art you might sit in or eat off of. (It’s hard to eat salad off of a room filled with red light.) This show features chairs and tables and bowls and cups and jewelry, all designed and crafted with deep artistic care by a robust community of craftsmen living in San Diego in the years following World War II. This show is called “San Diego’s Craft Revolution: From Post-War Modern to California Design” and opens Oct. 16.

While the other movement, the light-and-space art, has garnered attention and has often typified a SoCal aesthetic, this specific San Diego school of craftsmen and designers hasn’t been very widely studied. This show lends some credence to this often-overlooked slice of San Diego creative history.

Pieces like these:

Photo by Sam Hodgson
A mobile by artist Barney Reid in the late 1950s, made of enamel, copper and welded brass hangs above a teak-and-leather “L.R. Chair” made by John Dirks in 1960 and a table Dirks made in 1975 out of Spanish cedar burl and mahogany.

I’ll be pulling out interesting facets of these two shows in some future posts, like who are the people who put the shows together, and in what kind of places you might’ve seen this work if you were living here in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Put me to work, too. If there are things you wished you understood about these shows, or these museums, or this period of art, I would love to try to find the answers. I’m excited to learn more about this stuff. And meanwhile, I want to hear from you. What, if either, of these two styles of art is more intriguing to you? What do you know more about? What show are you more eager to see?

Leave a comment below or on Facebook.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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