Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles, 1960 – 1980 was an exhibition of phenomenal importance, researched and curated by Kellie Jones. Originating at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, the exhibition showed there October 2, 2011 – January 8, 2012, before touring to MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY, October 21 2012 – March 11, 2013, and Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA, July 20 – December 1, 2013. Not surprisingly, given Charles White’s relocation to the Los Angeles area for a major period of his life, he figured extensively in both the Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles, 1960 – 1980 exhibition itself, and the wonderful major catalogue that accompanied the exhibition. Indeed, White’s work Love Letter #1, 1971, graced the cover. The phenomenally important catalogue was edited by Kellie Jones and featured essays by Kellie Jones, Hazel V. Carby, Karin Higa, Naima J. Keith, Franklin Sirmans, Jacqueline Stewart, Roberto Tejada, and Daniel Widener.
The exhibition itself was part of Pacific Standard Time, an initiative of the Getty.
From the flyleaf of the catalogue:
This comprehensive, lavishly illustrated catalogue offers the first in-depth survey of the incredibly vital legacy of Los Angeles’s African American artists, featuring many rarely seen works. Now Dig This! Presents thirty-five artists working in a variety of media, including Alonzo Davis, Dale Brockman Davis, Melvin Edwards, Fred Eversley, David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, Samella Lewis, Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy, Betye Saar, and Charles White. Eight scholarly essays, a selected chronology, and informative artist biographies bring to light the influence that African American artists had on the larger movements, trends and ideas that fueled the arts during this important era of creative, cultural, and political ferment. Also explored is the significant network of friendships and collaborations across racial and geographic lines that contributed to many of the groundbreaking artistic advances of these decades.
A sense of the importance of the contributions made by Charles White can be gleaned from the multiple references to him in the introductory text, and throughout the catalogue. Extracts from Kellie Jones’ Introduction as follows:
Los Angeles began coming into its own as a cultural capital in the late 1950s with a rise in gallery activity and art patronage. By the early 1960s it was recognized as the second center of American art, after New York. Artists such as Betye Saar, Melvin Edwards, Charles White, and William Pajaud were part of a generation that willed an African American art community into existence with little traditional art-world support. They mounted exhibitions in homes, community centers, churches, and black-owned businesses. Some initially continued to work commercially while pursuing fine arts; Pajaud, for example, sold watercolor paintings to local department stores. The early careers of these frontrunners bring us into the 1960s and cut a path for the emergence of a cadre of professional artists. Their examples and mentorship were a catalytic force in creating and helping to sustain a vibrant black arts scene in the city. (16)
…[David] Hammons arrived in Los Angeles from Springfield, Illinois, in 1963. He studied art at various institutions throughout the city, eventually seeking out Charles White at Otis Art Institute. White’s influence on Hammons can be seen in the younger artist’s early choice of the graphic medium as well as in the political content of his work. Yet as Hammons developed his famed body prints, he demonstrated their basis in multimedia tradition more broadly construed, as evidenced in works such as Blue Female (1970s). Hammons’s shift toward three dimensions and spatial aesthetics can be seen in the assemblage Bird (1973), as well as in his work in performance. Such experiments were done in conjunction with Studio Z. This loose group came together at Hammons’s studio on Slauson Avenue— sometimes weekly—to engage in spontaneous actions, some of which were performed on the streets of the city. Studio Z had a changing membership (if one can call it that), including at various times Franklin Parker, Houston Conwill, Ulysses Jenkins, and RoHo along with Hammons, Hassinger, and Nengudi. Hammons’s studio, a huge old dance hall with a wooden floor, was a perfect place in which to work out ideas. (22)
Charles White’s section of the publication was on pages 130 – 145, with a biography by Andrea Gyorody on pages 152 – 153. The biography was accompanied by a photograph of White, while the section itself consisted of plates of the artist’s work, and examples of archival material.
The publication’s credits were as follows:
Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles; DelMonico Books/Prestel, Munich, London, New York, 2011. Hardcover with Dust Jacket, 352 pages. Numerous illustrations (many in colour)
Contents as follows
Foreword / Ann Philbin
Acknowledgments / Kellie Jones
Now Dig This!: An introduction / Kellie Jones
The Art of Creative Survival / Daniel Widener
Defending Black Imagination: The "L.A. Rebellion" School of Black filmmakers / Jacqueline Stewart
Black Art in L.A.: photographs by Robert A. Nakamura / Karin Higa
Find the Cave, Hold the Torch: making art shows since Walter Popps / Franklin Sirmans
Los Angeles Snapshots / Roberto Tejada
Rebellion and its Aftermath: Assemblage and fFlm in L.A. and London / Naima J. Keith
Figuring the future in Los(t) Angeles / Hazel V. Carby
Plates and Artist Biographies
Mark di Suvero
Daniel LaRue Johnson
John T. Riddle Jr.
Sheila Levrant de Bretteville,
Andrew Zermeno/Mechicano Art Center
Dale Brockman Davis
Sister Karen Boccalero/Self Help Graphics
Marie Johnson Calloway
Post/minimalism and performance:
Epilogue: A Suitcase:
Ruth G. Waddy
Selected Chronology, 1960-80 / Jennifer Vanore
Works in the Exhibition