The Cool School: California Mods Define an Era

Taking its title from a 1964 Artforum article linking the rebellious spirit and bop attitudes of West Coast art to those of West Coast jazz, veteran documentarist Morgan Neville's illustrated history of the painters and sculptors associated with Venice's Ferus Gallery (1957–67) is at once lively and analytical. Drawing on original and archival footage of the artists (John Altoon, Ed Kienholz, Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, et al.) at work and at play, on a polyphonic (and often dissonant) chorus of reminiscing heads, and on critical responses that range from the gaga enthusiasm of Ferus collectors Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell to the competitive carping of New York gallery owner Ivan Karp, Neville cobbles together a dramatic tale of two curators—Walter Hopps and Irving Blum—whose daring, if not entirely synchronized, visions of what the nearsighted Poulson/Yorty–era art market might bear put the city on the road to MOCA, Bergamot Station, and last year's big retrospective of Los Angeles art at the Centre Pompidou. The proceedings are cheerily abetted by vintage black-and-white photographs by Charles Britten, Jerry McMillan, Bill Claxton, Kienholz, and others, and a sound track that stretches all the way from the abstract expressions of Charles Mingus to the lighter-and-spacier Link Wray stylings of the original score by composer Dan Crane.

 
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