Los Angeles in the 1970’s was still very much the Wild West, the last decade in which the city bore some resemblance to the frontier town it had once been. It was a decade heavily flavored by the spirit of hedonism, experimentalism and the ongoing absorption of massive social changes that had come to light in the ‘60’s. It was also a decade less of obvious heroes and more one of extended ambiguity, uncertain, dialectic, where ideas were constantly in process.
The recently formed, and Walt Disney funded, CalArts was already a hotbed of radical new talent including the ironically named Joshua Tree Surf Club, a student arts collective at CalArts, they were most notable for their anarchic 'happenings' and performance art. The growing politicization of the college alongside their naked performances and swimming-pool parties around campus were famously unappreciated by visiting trustees.
Alongside the avant garde arts there was an entire cadre of politically charge female artists challenging mainstream social perceptions. During the late 1960s, artist Judy Chicago acted as a catalyst for feminist art and art education. Politically active as a UCLA student, she designed posters for the NAACP. As she made her name as a serious artist she no longer felt connected to her last name. She decided to change her last name to something independent of being connected to a man by marriage or heritage. Gallery owner Rolf Nelson had nicknamed her "Judy Chicago"because of her strong personality and thick Chicago accent. She decided this would be her new name. By legally changing her surname from the ethnically charged Gerowitz (her married name) to the more neutral Chicago, she freed herself from a certain social identity.Chicago was appalled that her new husband's signature approval was required to change her name legally.To celebrate the name change, she posed for the invitation to her latest exhibition dressed as a boxer. She also posted a banner across the gallery at the 1970 Cal State solo show that read: "Judy Gerowitz hereby divests herself of all names imposed upon her through male social dominance and chooses her own name, Judy Chicago."
During the 1970s, Chicago founded the first feminist art program in the United States at Cal State Fresno hoping to teach women the skills needed to express the female perspective in their work. It became the Feminist Art Program. Chicago and Miriam Schapiro then introduced the program at the radical CalArts. In 1972, the program created Womanhouse, the first art exhibition space to display a specifically female point of view in art. Chicago co-founded the Los Angeles Womens Building in 1973. This housed the Feminist Studio Workshop, described by the founders as "an experimental program in female education in the arts. Our purpose is to develop a new concept of art, a new kind of artist and a new art community built from the lives, feelings, and needs of women." Chicago is considered one of the "first-generation feminist artists'.
Arts clubs, happenings, installations and esoteric societies sprang up as creativity and New Age thinking permeated Southern California in the early 70’s. The 1960’s had seen the Huysman and Ferus Galleries define the West Coast art scene but now grass roots creative organisations appeared across LA County - some political, some ecologically minded - but all highly motivated. Setting up workshops wherever they could, they created a network of likeminded humans spreading a message of positivity and hope across the US and far beyond.
This collection honors the spirit of these artistic pioneers, referencing specific organizations and institutions while channeling the zeitgeist of one of the most creative periods in Los Angeles history.