Way Out West
New York light is clear and mild. Los Angeles light is soft and fierce. Edges stand out in New York. In L.A., they melt. (This applies to thoughts as well as to things: minds work a mite differently in America’s two capital cities of cultural production—not that it matters greatly now for culture, swamped as it is in glowing, placeless pixels.) A splendid show, at the David Zwirner gallery, of California minimalism, mostly from the late nineteen-sixties, revisits an apotheosis of the continental divide. Back then, Southern California writers and artists attained global stature by glorifying local quirks. (Two words: Joan Didion.) A tiny art community in L.A. absorbed influences of triumphant New York minimalism—the stringent simplicities of Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, et al.—and responded with forms and ideas that were so distinctive it was as if the movement had been reborn to more indulgent parents. The development acquired critical rubrics: Finish Fetish, for sculpture that sported industrial plastics and resins and glossy car enamels, and Light and Space, for increasingly ethereal environmental works. They shared a serene sensuousness that couldn’t have been more remote from New York’s principled asperity. In point of fact, they advanced a philosophical argument about the role of art in life which has aged well. Most of the four-decade-old works at Zwirner feel as fresh as this morning.