Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

The Art & Technology and Program

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LACMA

When I read the news this week that LACMA is bringing back its legendary Art and Technology Program, I basically freaked out.  But before I get into the new program I wanted to re-explore the original program.  (I knew this grad school paper would come in useful for something.) I gleefully just re-read the program’s catalogue: A Report on the Art and Technology program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Long title, amaaaaazing read.

Plug it in!

Plug it in!

ART AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM, 1967 – 1971

In 1967, the five-year-old Los Angeles County Museum of Art began a multi-year project called The Art & Technology Program.  The Program placed artists into residencies within technology companies with the intention that these corporations facilitate and/or fabricate the creation of new works, which would be shown in a culminating exhibition at the museum.  The Art and Technology Program was the brainchild of LACMA’s curator of Modern Art, Maurice Tuchman.

Much of the most compelling art since 1910 has depended upon the materials and processes of technology, and has increasingly assimilated scientific and industrial advances.  Nevertheless, only in isolated circumstances have artists been able to carry out their ideas or even initiate their projects due to the lack of an operative relationship with corporate facilities.  Our objective now is to provide the necessary meeting ground for some eminent contemporary artists with sophisticated technological personnel and resources.  Naturally we hope that this endeavor will result not only in significant works of art but in an ongoing union between the two forces.  It is our conviction that the need for this alliance is one of the most pressing esthetic issues of our time.”[i]

Maurice Tuchman
Senior Curator, Modern Art
Director, Art & Technology

PARTICIPATING CORPORATIONS

Corporate sponsorship WIN!

Corporate sponsorship WIN!

After receiving initial approval for the project from the museum board, Tuchman began by reaching out to corporations, since they would be largely responsible for funding the project.  Tuchman’s ally in this endeavor was Mrs. Otis Chandler, wife of the LA Times publisher (NBD).  Over 250 corporations were invited to participate, most were local to LA or Southern California, or had regional offices in the area.

Tuchman described his strategy for appealing to corporations in Report:[ii]  By comparing this sponsorship as miniscule compared to corporate contributions to medical and education organizations. 2 – “Businesses benefit from proximity to thriving cultural resources in attracting talented personnel.” (Who knew?) 3 – Corporations employees benefit from the mere exposure to creative personalities (ha!). 4 – Artworks resulting in these collaborations would be given to the corporations.  Tuchman mentions this last reason was the most “salient motive for collaboration.” Development and Fundraising 101, people.

Once the museum had obtained a hefty list of corporations (and secured an initial $7,000 from each), Tuchman began soliciting proposals from artists.  The museum staff played matchmaker, exploring appropriate pairings between the artists’ oeuvres and fabrication capabilities of the corporations.  The museum then organized meetings and tours with artists and staffs of corporations.  (Like picking teams for dodgeball teams, some artists were paired with their third choice of corporation.)

Kaiser Steel fabricated Serra's prop.

Kaiser Steel fabricated Serra’s prop.

Forty different corporations were involved in the Art and Technology Program, some were merely financial contributors, but 34 were eventually involved with one or more artist.  The museum staff wrote contracts for participating artists and corporation (copies of which are included in Report).  The museum asked Patron Sponsor Corporations to pay for the artists’ stipends ($14,000) as well as for the fabrication of the artworks (in addition to the initial $7,000 all sponsors contributed).   The system of funding became complicated when corporations decided halfway through residencies or the fabrication of artworks that costs were exceeding their anticipated contributions.

The participating corporations ranged from heavy industry (Kaiser Steel) to computer companies (Hewlett-Packard).  A large majority was involved in aerospace, and mention NASA in their company descriptions in the back of Report[iii].  Many were also from the defense industry; several sponsors were “defense thinktanks.”  Tuchman was concerned with the political climate of Vietnam and the involvement of so many defense corporations, but this was apparently never an issue with the participating artists (at least not mentioned in Report).  Other drama did arise.

PARTICIPATING ARTISTS

Oldenberg’s wild ride in Osaka.

Oldenburg’s wild ride in Osaka.

Artists were invited to participate in the Art and Technology Program by the museum.  Report mentions 76 participating artists; most of them were well-known at the time.[iv]  Fifteen were European (or working in Europe), 34 (nearly half) were based in New York, and only eighteen were local LA artists.  No female artist participated in the program.  The museum received 78 unsolicited proposals from artists, none accepted, from “a high proportion of women artists.”[v]  Based on documentation in Report, eleven of the 76 “participating artists” never submitted proposals, and 37 other artists’ proposals were rejected.  Only 28 artists were placed into residencies and of those only half produced exhibition-worthy pieces.

Eight artists previewed their work with the Art and Technology Program at Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan.  Participation at Expo ’70 postponed the museum exhibition in Los Angeles for a year, but exposed the artists and the museum’s Program to over 10 million people in Osaka.

The fourteen artists who exhibited at LACMA in 1971 were James Byars, Jean Dupuy, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Newton Harrison, R.B. Kitaj, Rockne Krebs, Roy Lichtenstein, Boyd Mefferd, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Andy Warhol and Robert Whitman.  All these artists, with the exception of Harrison, were well-known and not from LA.  To compensate for the lack of local talent, the museum organized a show called “24 Young Los Angeles Artists” which ran the same time as the Art and Technology exhibition.

Artists who did not show in the final exhibition were either still in the process of finishing works, looking for further financial commitments to manufacture works, never planned on producing a tangible museum object (James Turrell and Robert Irwin with the Garrett Corporation), or in several cases had left their residencies early due to irreconcilable differences (Larry Bell and John Chamberlain with the Rand Corporation).

FINAL PROJECTS

LACMA Lightshow: Harrison, Mefferd &Krebs

LACMA Lightshow: Harrison, Mefferd &Krebs

Many of the final projects were installations, some site specific to the museum campus: Mefferd’s (paired with Universal Television Company) strobe installation; Harrison’s installation utilized illuminated, gas-plasma-filled columns developed with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Whitman’s Mirrored Room developed with the Philco-Ford Corporation; Smith’s cardboard cave fabricated by the Container Corporation of America; and Krebs’ Day Passage used laser technology from Hewlett-Packard.

Lichtenstein had proposed making 15 short video works in collaboration with Universal Studios, but ended up only developing Three Landscapes.  Fahlstrom worked with the Heath Company (a manufacturer of large illuminated signs) to create a plastic and metal, Meatball Curtain.  Oldenburg collaborated with the engineers imaginers of Disney to develop a huge motorized Ice Bag, which he had to finished with Gemini G.E.L. because drama.  Serra’s collaborated with Kaiser Steel Company yielded a piece called Five Plates and Two Poles, one of his early prop pieces.  Rauschenberg produced Mud Muse with Teledyne, Inc. – a mud-filled vitrine, which bubbled and oozed in a way that mimicked the nearby La Brea Tar Pits (which were already beginning to destroy the fountains of LACMA’s original William Pereira campus).  Warhol was paired with Cowles Communication, which was experimenting with holographic printing, and produced holographic prints of daisies accompanied by a water feature called Rain Machine (Daisy Waterfall).

Rauschenberg’s muddy experiment with compressed air mechanisms.

Rauschenberg’s muddy experiment with compressed air mechanisms.

REPORT ON THE ART AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM AT THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

Response to the exhibition was mixed; it was evident that some of the work had been constructed rapidly towards the end of the project.  ArtForum ran a piece on the show titled “Corporate Art.”[vi] The Art and Technology Program proved ambitious from its inception.  While the exhibition received mixed reviews (and just 14 artists were featured), the project was never regarded as a failure.

Cover of “Report” – Which ones are the artists?

Cover of “Report” – Which ones are the artists?

This was mainly because of the Program’s catalogue, A Report on the Art and Technology Program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The extensive Report documents the minutia of many aspects of the Program.  Report chronicles the many initial and unrealized artist proposals, as well as residencies that did not result in artworks.  Report was praised for its methodology in documenting and revealing the inner administrative functions of the project and hailed as “the most revealing document yet published on the art and technology symbiosis,”[vii] and is rare even to this day for its “degree of candidness.”[viii]

Many now infamous episodes are catalogued within it.  Chamberlain, for example did not exhibit, but his time spent at the Rand Corporation is extensively documented in the catalogue.  A particular episode involving a memo sent from Chamberlain to all Rand employees and some of their dismissive and even spiteful responses are included in Report.[ix]  The experimental projects administered by James Turrell and Robert Irwin within the Garrett Corporation are also included.  Though no museum object was developed, more interdisciplinary exchange occurred in their residency than probably any other.

This catalogue has reached an almost mythic status, and remains one of LACMA’s most in-demand catalogues.[x]  Although a one-time project (until now!), the Art and Technology Program remains important because of its documentation in Report, and is regarded as an early and successful interdisciplinary collaboration between artists and business.


[i] Maurice Tuchman, A Report on the Art and Technology Program at the Los Angeles county Museum of Art 1967-1971 (Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), 1971, 11.
[ii] Tuschman, Report, 9.
[iii] Tuschman, Report, 361.
[iv] Tuschman, Report, 49.
[v] Tuschman, Report, 19.
[vi] Burnham, “Corporate Art,” 66.
[vii] Jack Burnham, “Corporate Art,” ArtForum, October 1971, 66.
[viii] Burnham, “Corporate Art,” 66.
[ix] Tuschman, Report, 72-74.
[x] “Introducing the Reading Room,” January 25, 2010, lacma.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/introducing-the-reading-room.

One Response

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  1. But what did the memo say?

    Because Drama

    May 18, 2014 at 4:50 AM


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