Birth of the Cool
Post #1075 • October 17, 2007, 12:23 PM • 36 Comments
Newport Beach, CA - Few shows I've seen to date have been so simultaneously enjoyable, edifying, wide-ranging, and full of serious work as Birth of the Cool, currently up at OCMA. The show studies a cross-section of art and design generated in Southern California in the 1950s, from paintings by neglected masters of the California Hard Edge movement to clips from the Hollywood animation studios. Consequently, one gets to draw stylistic comparisons between, for instance, Eames furniture, Gerald McBoing Boing, and the Flying V.
This is great fun, but the juiciest part is those Hard Edge painters. Birth of the Cool invokes a 1959 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum called Four Abstract Classicists, which featured the work of Lorser Feitelson, John McLauglin, Karl Benjamin, and Frederick Hammersley. For good measure it throws in Helen Lundeberg, who was married to Feitelson and whose Sloping Horizon is one of the strongest paintings in the show. McLaughlin, who went to Japan in 1935 and afterwards ran an Asian art gallery on the East Coast, eventually (in his forties) started painting and moved to Dana Point. His works synthesized the Japanese aesthetic into a kind of proto-minimalism, and they are somber, understated, and gorgeous. Hammersley is still painting out in Albequerque, where he resettled after leaving Los Angeles in 1968. (He had come from Salt Lake City to study at the school that would become CalArts.) I kept returning to the Hammersleys, whose luminosity, subtle texture variations, and compositional sweetness insisted on jumping out in front, although on one of the Karl Benjamins, pictured below, was a ringer.