The Last Plastics Show
“Must we hate our parents in order to love our grandparents?” Robert Venturi posed this rhetorical question sometime in the nineteen seventies knowing, sadly, the answer to be yes. For in Venturi’s own world of elite architectural culture, every bit as much as in the presumptively more fickle fields of fashion and mass culture, the products of the “just past” (a term coined by Walter Benjamin) taste like poison when consumed by those searching for the new. So too in contemporary art. It is therefore all the more surprising that in 1972 Paul Brach, the incoming dean at CalArts would commission a so-called “plastics” show as the opening exhibition of that school’s art gallery at its new Valencia campus. By then the subject of plastic, resin and various auto-body technologies as expressed in California art was already thoroughly explored in multiple exhibitions up and down the west coast and extending east to Detroit and the Jewish Museum in New York. Moreover, the sunny technological optimism associated with California in the nineteen sixties had quickly darkened; the hostile reception greeting LACMA’s 1971 blockbuster “Art and Technology” exhibition being a case in point. This was indeed the end of an era, as older art practices and institutions (plastics and Chouinard Art Institute, for instance) gave way to the new (Conceptualism and CalArts). It was in this historical context
that the artist/curators Judy Chicago, Doug Edge and De Waine Valentine gave the exhibition its decidedly self-mocking and surprisingly poignant title: “The Last Plastics Show.”
And so it has remained, at least until now. The original exhibition included works by Peter Alexander, Richard Amend, Michael Balog, Greg Card, Carole Caroompas, Judy Chicago, Ron Cooper, Ron Davis, Doug Edge, David Elder, Fred Eversley, Craig Kauffman, Linda Levi, Ed Moses, Karen Nelson, Terry O’Shea, Helen Pashigian, Fran Raboff, Roland Reiss, Lynn Roylance, Barbara Smith, De Wain Valentine,Vasa, and Rita Yokoi. “The Last Plastics Show” as reconstituted at Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art will feature vintage pieces by many of these same artists.
Soon after the 1972 exhibition a good number of its participants abandoned the resin/plasticsvocabulary for other, perhaps less unfashionable practices, including Feminist performance,photography, Conceptualism and even Formalist painting. Some have more recently returned to the medium. Be that as it may, the artist’s unsentimental negation of his/her own artistic practice is certainly the defining trope of Modernist culture. In his “Auroras of Autumn,” Wallace Stevenscharacterized the Modernist habit of self-rejection as “saying yes to no.” Elsewhere in the same poem Stevens added that these “negations are never final.” The powerful body of sixties and seventies era artworks on display in “The Last Plastics Show” at Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary art should, at the very least, make us thankful for that.