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Orange County Museum of Art Opens State of Mind. New California Art circa 1970

The most comprehensive exhibition on the emergence of Conceptual art and other new genres in California during the late 1960s and early 1970s

Orange County Museum of Art presents the exhibition State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970, on view October 9, 2011 – January 22, 2012. Co-organized by OCMA and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and co- curated by Constance Lewallen and Karen Moss, the exhibition showcases more than 150 works of art—installations, photographs, videos, artists‘ books, and extensive performance documentation— that demonstrate the crucial role of California artists in the development of Conceptual art and other new genres. State of Mind includes newly discovered works from the period as well as rarely seen works from archives.

In the 1960s, the Newport Harbor Art Museum, predecessor to OCMA, was one of very few venues for contemporary art in Southern California. During its first decade, the museum organized exhibitions presenting groundbreaking works by artists such as Michael Asher, John Baldessari, Allen Ruppersberg, Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Bonnie Sherk, Nancy Buchanan, Chris Burden, and Barbara T. Smith, to name just a few,‖ stated OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs. ―We are excited to work again with these pioneers and to revisit this important period of our history, one that is essential to understanding California‘s extraordinary contributions to the art world.

Social Change in California
In the mid 1960s California emerged as an incubator for social change and youth-oriented counterculture. The Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles, the Chicano students‘ protest against racism and inequality in the public schools, and the despair over the Vietnam War, had a major impact on the artists in this exhibition, who held the fervent belief that they were helping to forge a new, more open society.

Conceptual art was emerging at the same time and in response to similar cultural and social changes in New York, Europe, and Latin America. What made California unique within the United States was its relative scarcity of cultural institutions, social traditions, and markets vis-à-vis other creative centers. And with several recently opened art schools, California represented the future and freedom for experimentation of all kinds; the old order was under attack, revolution was in the air, and traditional forms of art seemed remote and wholly inadequate to the concerns of the moment.

The new art was rarely produced in the studio, even less often in the museum or commercial gallery; it took place in the streets—such as First Supper, performed by artist collective Asco in 1974—artist-run galleries, and other venues not usually associated with art. No longer satisfied with the museum‘s role as mausoleum for static art, artists
performed live events or produced interactive installations as a means to critique the ‘institution‘.

The importance of art departments and art schools in California circa 1970 cannot be underestimated, performing crucial roles as both patron and scene in the 1960s and 1970s. The University of California built
three new campuses in Irvine, San Diego, and Santa Cruz, and hired prominent artists to start new art programs, while the state university system created experimental colleges and art departments.

Content and Focus of the Exhibition
State of Mind is organized around ten themes: the Street, the Environment, Politics, Feminism, Domestic Space, Public Space, Perceptual and Psychological Space, the Body and Performance, Art About Art, Artists’ Books and Ephemera. The exhibition presents visitors with new juxtapositions between artists from Northern and Southern California, who were sometimes working in similar fashion, while at other times moving in separate and distinctive directions.

With Conceptualism‘s focus on ideas, language, and systems of meaning, the exhibition showcases extensive texts and artworks that were placed in established journals and newspapers, as well as in alternative publications, giving artists the ability to disseminate their ideas. Through rare publications, visitors will gain a deeper understanding of how artists of this period successfully used media to address issues of the day.

With the advent of the Sony Portapack, artists could produce their own, more radical forms of video art. State of Mind includes important video as well as extensive photography, both of which document ground-breaking, one-time performances that happened throughout the State and that bring to life the artistic practices of that era.

Conceptualism‘s examination of space, both public and private, led several artists to explore art installations—a practice ubiquitous today but relatively unexplored prior to this period—several of which will be recreated for State of Mind.

With more than 150 works of art—both iconic works and those that are lesser known—the exhibition includes key examples of Conceptualism and other new genres that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In addition, the museum is organizing a series of performances, talks, and readings by some of the leaders of California Conceptualism.

The Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach is located at 850 San Clemente Drive in Newport Beach, CA. Hours are 11 am to 5 pm, Wednesday through Sunday, with extended hours Thursdays from 11 am to 8 pm. Admission is $12 adults; $10 seniors and students; children twelve and under and OCMA members are free. All facilities are handicapped accessible. For more information, call 949.759.1122 or visit

Image: Martha Rosler, First Lady (Pat Nixon), 1972, photomontage from Bringing the War Home Series: House Beautiful, 1967-72, 20 x 24 in.; courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, New York and Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, New York

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