This October the Hammer Museum will present Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980, a comprehensive exhibition that examines the vital legacy of the city’s African American visual artists. Now Dig This! comprises 140 works from 35 artists that have rarely been shown in a museum setting and includes early pieces by now well-established artists as well as works once considered “lost.” The exhibition expands the art historical record by presenting an array of artists, some not widely recognized by a broad public, and connecting their work to the movements, trends, and ideas that fueled the arts in Los Angeles during this period. The work of these African American practitioners was animated to an extent by the civil rights and Black Power movements reflecting the changing sense of what constituted African American identity and American culture. Artists featured in the exhibition include Melvin Edwards, Fred Eversley, David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Alonzo Davis, Dale Brockman Davis, Noah Purifoy, Betye Saar, and Charles White.
Now Dig This! is presented as part of Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California, coming together for six months beginning in October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a new force in the art world. Organized by the Hammer and curated by Columbia University professor Kellie Jones, Now Dig This! will chronicle and celebrate this nuanced and multicultural history of Los Angeles.
“Pacific Standard Time is a very significant event for the city of Los Angeles. The deep and remarkable history it explores serves as a foundation for the thriving creative community of artists living and working here today,” remarks Hammer director Ann Philbin. “Now Dig This! reveals a specific moment when a group of African American artists, gallerists, writers, and collectors generated a nexus of creativity and influence that is largely unknown to the general public.”
While much has been written about artists like Ed Ruscha, Judy Chicago, Edward Kienholz, and Bruce Nauman, artists like Fred Eversley, John Otterbridge, and Noah Purifoy have not enjoyed the same recognition. Additionally, there has been significant attention paid to Los Angeles’s Ferus Gallery and the development of Artforum magazine, however far less is known about their African American counterparts such as Alonzo and Dale Davis, owners of the Brockman Gallery; and Samella Lewis, who began Black Art: An International Quarterly (now the International Review of African American Art) and wrote the two-volume Black Artists on Art.
“The artists that have been included in Now Dig This! represent a vibrant group whose work is critical to a more complete and dynamic understanding of twentieth century American art. Their influence goes beyond their immediate creative circles and their legacy is something we are only now beginning to fully understand,” says exhibition curator Kellie Jones.
By illuminating the richness and complexity of this creative community, Now Dig This! demonstrates how these African American artists and friends were not working in isolation but were quite integral to the developing U.S. art scene during the latter part of the twentieth century. The exhibition will offer a fuller view of the changing art landscape during this important era of artistic and cultural ferment, as artists shifted from more traditional formats such as painting and works on paper to modes such as assemblage, finish fetish (a West Coast style of minimalism), postminimalism, conceptualism, and performance.
Catalogue & Public Programs
The exhibition will be accompanied by a 350 page, full-color catalogue co-published by Prestel. The publication will include reproductions of works included in the exhibition supplemented with other illustrations, excerpts from interviews with artists, scholarly essays, a comprehensive bibliography, and reproductions of archival materials, including posters, invitations, documentary photographs, and other items recently uncovered. The exhibition will be accompanied by several public programs, including performances, film screenings, lectures, and symposia.