More than 60 institutions from across Southern California came together in 2011-2012 for Art in L.A. 1945-1980, the Getty’s first Pacific Standard Time (PST) initiative, and the cultural impact was immediate and intense. When museums and galleries from Santa Barbara to San Diego all offered simultaneous, coordinated exhibitions about the rise of Los Angeles as an art center, the international art world took notice. Less than a year later, it seemed as though every major museum in New York City had a show by one of the L.A. artists from PST. Although many of these exhibitions had been in the works for several years, visiting New York when it was so thoroughly besotted with California art made the first Pacific Standard Time collaboration appear in retrospect to have been the fulcrum of a massive paradigm shift.
This week, the Getty and a colossal array of California art institutions launch Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an even more ambitious effort that has the potential to once again destabilize the historical narratives and upend the conventional wisdom of the art world. The two instances of “LA” in the subtitle refer to Los Angeles and Latin American/Latinx art. This time around, Santa Barbara will have a significantly larger presence in the project, as all of the city’s art museums, along with the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and the Community Arts Workshop, are collaborating to bring four substantial shows and dozens of events and activities to our city over the next four months. What’s more, all of these exhibits and events focus on the impact of Latin American and Latinx art on Southern California, a subject that could not possibly be more relevant to our current historical moment.
¿Dónde Está Latin America?
For many, the omnibus term “Latin America” reeks of Anglo-American ignorance, implying a nonexistent unity of people who live south of the United States–Mexico border. Do Cubans, Brazilians, Chileans, Argentines, and Mexicans all share some common identity with, for example, the French citizens of Martinique and Guadeloupe? Upon closer examination, however, the term’s history reveals an unexpected and complex ideological origin.
The first users of the expression “América Latina” were a Colombian, José María Torres Caicedo, and a Chilean, Francisco Bilbao. Their object — both of them writing in the year 1856 — was to rally support for resistance against the recently completed U.S. seizure of territory in the Mexican–American War and against the Anglo-American adventurer William Walker’s invasion of Nicaragua. It was not long, however, before “Latin America” took on a distinctly different valence, when it was adopted by propagandists of the French invasion of Mexico to imply that all nations speaking Romance languages such as Spanish, French, and Portuguese had a common cause in a world increasingly dominated by Germanic and Anglo-American militarism.
For the purposes of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the concept of “Latin America” covers more than geographic or linguistic boundaries might suggest, just as “Los Angeles” has come to designate a cultural phenomenon in addition to a sprawling metropolis. Heather MacDonald, program officer with the Getty Foundation and one of the architects of PST: LA/LA, describes the project in terms of a desire to discover and foster international and institutional connections through art.
“Globalism has always been with us,” said MacDonald, “from the colonial era forward, there have always been these cultural connections,” many of which continue to percolate below the surface of the popular imagination. How many of us are aware that the equivalent of mid-century-modern Case Study Houses were built in Mexico? Or that the modernist aesthetic of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics influenced the design of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles? For MacDonald, the excitement of PST: LA/LA has come from talking with a multitude of creators and scholars about the often unrecognized or underappreciated cultural affinities that crisscross the borders of two continents and saturate our everyday life. Santa Barbara, with its long history of sophisticated cultural appropriation and its powerful galaxy of talented curators, occupies a particularly important place in the work of this project. Speaking of the community created here by the inter-institutional work involved, MacDonald had nothing but praise for the teams that “set a standard by collaborating early and often.”
In the sections that follow are preliminary descriptions of the four major PST: LA/LA shows that open in Santa Barbara beginning September 15, 16, and 17. In the months to come, the Santa Barbara Independent will feature further in-depth reviews of the exhibitions, along with additional coverage of the various events and activities that the museums have planned, including the special PST: LA/LA weekend scheduled for October 20-22.