Work at CalArts

»Where art can happen« The early years of CalArt: Behind the seven mountains, the art of tomorrow

Once upon a time: Bambi, Cinderella, Santa Claus and a fairytale castle with the letters 'CalArts'. Mike Kelley brought these motifs together on a canvas in 1977 and called his work 'Matriculation'. His humorous commentary on the history of the California Institute of the Arts, at which Kelley spent some time in the late 1970s, marks the starting point of an exhibition at the Hanoverian Kestner Society that deals with the early years of this legendary institution.

As early as 1964, when the film Mary Poppins was broadcast for the first time, Walt Disney switched to an image film for his vision of an art college at which an interdisciplinary exchange based on the model of the Bauhaus or Black Mountain College was to be continued. Unfortunately, he was no longer to witness the opening of the university in 1970. Everything else reads retrospectively like a fairy tale. Robert Corrigan, the founding president, managed to convince artists of his innovative reform pedagogy and to bring them to Valencia, California, as teachers and learners. Herbert Blau taught experimental theater, Ravi Shankar African, Indonesian and Indian music, Victor Papanek represented a political understanding of design, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro founded the FAP (Feminist Art Program) and realized the legendary Womanhouse with their students in 1972 as a milestone in feminist art. John Baldessari saw himself in the Post Studio Art Class as'ignorant teacher ‘as Jacques Rancière could not describe him better. In addition, with Emmet and Alison Knowles or Allan Kaprow, important representatives of the Fluxus Art were against. In general, the hierarchical teacher-student separation should be abolished and the first-year students should be accepted as artists on an equal footing. The list of alumni, guest lecturers and associates reads like the who's who of art since the 1970s and inevitably has to remain incomplete. Unfortunately, the plan to also get Herbert Marcuse could not be realized, but gives an idea of ​​what else could have been.

The exhibition in Hanover concentrates on the art of the first 10 years of CalArt and works out some interesting perspectives and relationships on the basis of selected positions, which nevertheless mark neuralgic points of this fantastic space of possibility. The curators Christina Végh and Philipp Kaiser point out in the text accompanying the exhibition: “The art-historical reception of CalArt has so far been relatively one-sided. So far there has been no comprehensive view of the currents that existed in parallel. ”In the exhibition course, the representatives of Post Studio Art are consistently seen together with Feminist Art and Fluxus. This enables a reception that in turn makes interdisciplinary relationships or differences recognizable and does not adhere to the established art-historical ordering schemes. The artistic works shown are historically contextualized through archive material and expanded through interviews with contemporary witnesses. Most of the protagonists described the early days as chaos, out of which, however, networks and connections emerged that were particularly decisive for the younger generation. The private is political and art history is not updated in dynasties, but as a plural practice across generations, orientations and conventions is questioned and thus renewed. It was precisely this that made early success possible for the so-called Picture Generation. Ericka Beckman, Barbara Bloom Troy Brautuch, Matt Mulican, David Salle, Jack Goldstein, James Welling and many other artists literally learned to develop their artistic work 'with' and not after John Baldessari and others. Suzanne Lacy and Ulrike Rosenbach received significant impulses for their artistic work in California. A look at the CalArt curricula and course catalogs with courses on “Advanced Drug Research”, “Sex in Human Experience and Society” as well as legendary pool parties and teach-ins that last for days give only a vague idea of ​​the intensity of the collective and personal experiences all ups and downs. This is still revolutionary today, where everything that is standing and standing seems to evaporate.

The Kestner Gesellschaft presents a rich and stimulating collection of materials that has some (re) discoveries ready and that really makes you want to dig deeply into art history again. A first volume of text in cooperation with the Free University of Berlin and metaLAB (at) Harvard, who also intervene in the exhibition with a documentation of the Womanhouse from 1972, provides additional tools. You can look forward to the exhibition catalog.