Although lithography was not a product of the 20th century (Pipes 17), it remained a relevant form of art throughout the 20th century, specifically during the years between 1945 and 1980. Although other forms of art and printing have been developed since then, this paper argues that the mass production of lithography still offers a lot of benefits and that it remains significant in the art industry.
Lithography is a type of surface or planographic printing (“ Lithography”). It is different from intaglio and letterpress printing where the design is etched or cut into the plane. Lithography is used both as a commercial printing process – also known as offset printing – and as an art process and is based on the inability of water and oil to mix. “ A lithograph is printed from a stone” (“ Lithograph”), although plastic plates and grained metal are also used in commercial processes.
Invented by Alois Senefelder in Prague in the eighteenth century (Pipes 17), it was a type of printing process where any greasy mark made on the lithographic stone or on the prepared metal plate would print. This allowed illustrators to work spontaneously and directly so that by the end of the nineteenth century, posters, sheet music, maps, decorative scraps, postcards, and greeting cards were being mass-produced through lithography. Not only was lithography considered a cheap and effective way of duplicating maps, posters, and illustrations, it also paved the way for an increased diversity in the means and methods of printing (Fraser 111-112).
It was in India that lithography was used in its full potential as a medium for text. This was widely attributed to the intricacies involved in the faithful reproduction of exceptionally cursive Persian and Persian-derived scripts. Although the Oxford Printing Press was able to acquire an Arabic font in 1668, which they used for printing Persian text, the result was deemed unsatisfactory by those who were used to reading Persian handwriting. On the contrary, lithography was able to produce excellent results through one of two methods. One method involved the inscription of texts on stone slabs, which were then “ retraced in lithographic ink containing a heavy mixture of molten wax” (Fraser 112). The text stood out after the stone was sluiced in acid or lemon juice, as the process provided a clear outline for replicated impressions. This, however, required some ingenuity as the lines had to be initially written backwards on the stone in order “ to produce a mirror image on the correct way round” (Fraser 112). Another method was for the words to be written the right way round on paper first before being transferred onto the block. The results from the lithographic process were so aesthetically beautiful that Shaw (Fraser 112) would call lithography a link with the past. According to Shaw:
It combined the cultural attributes of manuscript with the technical advantages of mass production. Lithography made the printed book no longer an alien artifact, but something visually more familiar and therefore culturally more acceptable. The mass-produced manuscript was, through lithography, a paradox realized. (Fraser 112)
However, it was only with the invention of photography that lithography was able to take over from the letterpress as “ the most versatile of all the printing processes” (Pipes 17). Photography was used to sensitize the boxwood surface, which was used for wood engravings. Lithography generally required a masking layer or a pre-fabricated photomask, which served as a master from which the final pattern was copied (Hulsenberg, Harnisch, and Bismarck 110). Although cutting them by hand was still necessary, this allowed the illustrator’s original drawing to be preserved while also allowing the photographs to be reproduced. It then led to the use of lithography for mass production and micromachining.
Another advantage of lithography is that it is probably the most unrestricted of the printing processes where the colors can range from the darkest black to the brightest of colors. It can also simulate the effects of brush, crayon, pen, or pencil drawing very well. In addition, lithographic techniques allow for precise control over the dimensions and shape of the objects to be created.
Post- World War II Art in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, after World War II, saw a time of both chaos and opportunity. Chaos because people somehow had to start over and yet weren’t really sure how to start picking up the pieces. And yet, it was also a time of opportunity – the opportunity to become creative, an opportunity that came with their newfound freedom. However, during that time, art seemed to be the last thing on people’s minds and while every effort to turn art into a business failed, there were a handful of guys in the suburbs whose creative minds were busily at work (Waldie).
They made things that were colorful, fast, and loud, which resulted in the city being saturated by media.
As well, post-World War II Los Angeles saw no real art museum (Timberg, “ Galleries”). It wasn’t until 1965 that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art existed as a separate entity. As such, much of the activity in the L. A. art scene from the years 1945 to 1980 came from commercial galleries, art schools, print shops, artists’ collectives, and private collectors.
During this time, the Ferus gallery was said to have made the most impact in the L. A. art scene where energy was brought into the L. A. art industry by the first solo show of Andy Warhol. It brought about the realization that Los Angeles could become a pop art capital and this led to the development of the careers of major figures such as Ed Ruscha.
Indeed, the years 1945 to 1980 saw many milestones in the art industry in Los Angeles. For example, resistance to abstraction in art and to modernism began in 1947 (Timberg, “ Art in Context”). It was also this time that the painting witch hunt began. In 1953, Helen Lundeberg, an innovative and important L. A artist who worked with both landscape and geometric abstraction, had a one-woman show at the Pasadena Art Institute. In 1954, L. A. industrialist Norton Simon purchased his first artwork and would purchase seventeen more by the end of 1955.
In 1955, Wallace Berman, a beat-influenced artist, published the first issue of Semina, a magazine of visual art and poetry. In 1959, the four abstract classicists John McLaughlin, Fred Hammersely, Lorser Feitelson, and Karl Benjamin held a show at the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and they would later be dubbed “ the fathers of hard edge painting” (Timberg, “ Art in Context”). Heiress Dwan also opened a gallery in Westwood in 1959, and it proved to be tough competition for Ferus and the other museums in the city at the time.
In 1960, developments were made in the modern architecture field in Los Angeles. This was marked by the “ flying-saucer-like Chemosphere House in Hollywood Hills” (Timberg, “ Art in Context”), which was designed by John Lautner. In 1965, Nicholas Wilder opened his gallery, which sold the works of David Hockney and John McCracken, and in the same year, the LACMA would become the biggest museum of its kind in the western part of America.
Also in 1960, June Wayne established the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles (“ Tamarind Lithography Workshop”), which was funded by the Ford Foundation. It aimed to bring attention to the process of lithography printing and promote its use among the upcoming artists. In 1966, a seminal lithography studio called Gemini G. E. L. was also opened, and although it was initially associated with East Coast figures such as Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth Kelly, it later produced prints by John Altoon, Hockney, and Ruscha. In 1967, artist brothers, Dale and Alonzo Davis opened the Brockman Gallery, which was one of L. A.’s first black-owned galleries.
In 1970, artist John Baldessari moved from San Diego to Los Angeles where he would become an important figure in Conceptual Art not only because of his own work but also because of the many years he spent teaching in UCLA and CalArts. In 1971, the LACMA held the Art and Technology show, which featured Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, and Christo, as well as other New York and European artists. This highlighted a program that the museum had been preparing for since 1967.
In 1972, a modern-day Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead was held in Los Angeles, and it marked the return to traditional Latin American culture and arts. In the same year, Womanhouse was launched. It was a politically minded exhibition space dedicated to women, which was launched in a big Hollywood home by Mirriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago of the feminist art program of CalArts. Also in the same year, the curator and director of the Pomonsa Art Gallery, Helene Winer, was fired, which brought an end to several years of experimentation on conceptual art, minimalism, video, and performance art.
In 1974, the J. Paul Getty Museum opened in Pacific Palisades. It was designed to look like a first-century Roman Villa, and in 1975, a major show demonstrated the city’s leadership in video art with the opening of Southland Video Anthology at the Long Beach Museum of Art and tours. It included the works of David Salle, Paul McCarthy, Allan Kaprow, and others. In 1976, the California Arts Commission closed to make way for the California Arts Council, which emphasized on community-based projects and grants. In 1976, the exhibit titled Concepts: Six Contemporary Asian Artists was held at Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum, which showcased the wide range of work created by California’s Asian American artists. Also in the same year, a group of artists launched the first jazz festival in Los Angeles, which they named after Watts Tower artist Simon Rodia, and which eventually encompassed a wide array of art forms (Timberg, “ Art in Context”).
In 1977, the state of California chartered the California African American Museum, which would open in 1981, and in 1979, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles was founded.
Pacific Standard Time
Indeed, the years between 1945 and 1980 was very colorful for the Los Angeles art scene where major developments occurred that would significantly contribute to the prominence of art in the city. It is these historical events that the Pacific Standard Time aims to celebrate.
Pacific Standard Time started almost 10 years ago as an effort to document the milestones in Los Angeles’ artistic history (Abraham). The Getty Foundation supported projects that aimed to preserve and rescue the archives that held the historic record of Los Angeles art from the seminal period between 1945 and 1980. In more than six years, the foundation has provided grants amounting to $2. 7 million dollars through an initiative called On the Record.
The Pacific Standard Time was inaugurated in 2008 where it was awarded grants amounting to $3. 6 million, allowing the participating museums to prepare for the series of exhibitions and perform research based on the archives. In addition, the Getty Foundation provided another $3. 7 million to enable museums to turn their ambitious shows into reality, which would in turn enable the public audience to gain access to Southern California’s rich history.
The event Pacific Standard Time: Art in L. A., 1945–1980 is an event that brings together more than 60 cultural institutions throughout Southern California to tell the story of how the Los Angeles art scene rose and how it made an impact on the art world. The many programs and exhibitions in the event aim to educate the public about the role of L. A. in modern art development during the second half of the twentieth century. It involves over 50 simultaneous exhibitions where institutions of all sizes participate. It also features the many artistic developments from Los Angeles – the pioneering work of artists’ collectives; the Japanese-American design; the Chicano performance art; ceramics; the Woman’s Building’s feminist activities; movies about the African-American Los Angeles rebellion; multi-media installations; modernist architecture and design; post-minimalism, and pop culture.
Indeed, Pacific Standard Time showcases the artwork of numerous artists, and among these would be lithographic art. Examples are the following, which were featured in the December 11, 2011 Pacific Standard Time exhibits (Gemini G. E. L): the White Line Square VI, a 3-color lithograph, by Josef Albers from 1966 and the Untitled, a 2-color lithograph by John Altoon from 1967.
Numerous exhibits were also held and although there was none dedicated to lithography alone, some of the exhibits in the 2011 Pacific Standard Time event were the exhibitions at the Pomona College of Art and that in the Museum of Latin American Art (The Broad Stage). The former held a symposium that lasted an entire day where the curatorial team gave a talk, art historian Thomas Crow gave a lecture, and Hal Glicksman and his team of artists conducted a panel discussion. On the other hand, the Museum of Latin American Art held a panel discussion with art historians and exhibition curators.
The period from 1945 to 1980 was indeed rich with the history that surrounded the Los Angeles art scene. It was a time filled with the many developments that led to state of the Los Angeles art industry that we know today. Although many types of art forms have developed over the years, lithography remains a significant art form even today. It is cost efficient, especially in terms of mass productions, it preserves the original work, and it enables the artists to directly and simultaneously express their creativity. In addition, it is capable of reproducing the intricate details and the rich colors of an artwork that other forms of art or printing may not be capable of doing. Needless to say the history of the Los Angeles art scene won’t be complete without the acknowledgement of lithography’s contributions to the art world.
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