From Library Journal
One of the most ambitious art shows the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has ever mounted, the recent "Made in California: Art, Image and Identity 1900-2000" came with all the marketing trimmings, such as mugs, mouse pads, and a music CD (predictably containing tracks like "Valley Girl" and "California Dreamin' "). The two books that accompany the exhibition stand out, however, as especially edifying adornments to the marquee. Each book in its own way addresses the question, "What contribution has California made to the world's visual culture in the last 100 years?" The catalog presents more than 500 illustrations documenting the largest art exhibition ever mounted surveying California art and culture, a show comprising over 1200 examples of art and ephemera in a wide range of media. Opening with the words "Which California? Whose California?" the book demonstrates that the Golden State's image is of a contested Eden. Apart from being the capital of the film and television industries (a fact underemphasized in this catalog), the state has become identified with several iconographic threads that are herein extensively and entertainingly illustrated. The exhibition has come under blistering criticism for ignoring aesthetic considerations while epitomizing a trend among curators to blur the boundaries between artworks and historical artifacts. While at times this tendency results in the sublime sitting next to the ridiculous (e.g., a Frida Kahlo masterpiece shares space with a 1940s model wearing a sombrero-themed swimsuit), we also see outstanding art within a historic and geographic context from which it ordinarily is quite divorced. Also, a show this size inevitably exposes the works of lesser-known artists. Thus, along with the de rigueur Diebenkorns and Ansel Adams, we are treated to the work of countless other, lesser-known artists such as John Marshall Gamble and Enrique Chagoya, to name two separated by almost a century. Reading California collects 19 scholars' descriptions of different aspects of California's cultural identity, viewing each as elements of larger mythical notions of the state. The individual authors cover a broad range of topics, from the birth of auto tourism to "Beat Art." Most interesting are an essay by state librarian Kevin Starr describing the seminal influence of Angelino historian Carey McWilliams upon the state's self-image, a telling analysis of the important role played by art schools in fostering culture, and Peter Selz's succinct study of West Coast political art. This erudite composite history is recommended for academic and large public libraries; the fine catalog to this important exhibition is highly recommended for all collections. Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"This handsome--and hefty--exhibition catalog about California culture provides from one to three photographs on virtually every page. By perusing it, one can almost experience the visual event."--"Choice