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Arts and Entertainment

In An Article Supposedly About L.A.'s Art Scene, New York Times Assures Its Readership That New York's Is Still Way, Way Better

Barbara Kruger: Untitled (Another Year). Photo by Lauren Lloyd.
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The New York Times came out with a piece this week that is ostensibly about the region-wide art festival "Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. from 1945 to 1980."

The festival means that for the next six months tons of arts organizations from San Diego to Santa Barbara to Pomona are doing retrospective exhibits that celebrate Southern California's role in the global art scene. (In case you've missed it, we've been writing quite a bit about it.)

Awesome, right? Well, not if you're a touchy New York Times reader. For an article that is supposedly about Southern California's art scene, it spills a lot of ink explaining why New York's art scene is way more important. But we're wondering: doth the Gray Lady protest too much?

If you have a checklist of Southern California stereotypes handy, we'd recommend breaking it out now for our line-by-line reading. (Spoiler alert: no women will be painting their nails while they're stuck in traffic.)

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Here's a sentence from the piece's lead paragraph that explains that this art festival makes it seem like Angelenos have an inferiority complex:

Pacific Standard Time, as this festival is known, is an exhaustive accounting of the birth of the Los Angeles-area art scene, but it is also a statement of self-affirmation by a region that, at times, appears to feel underappreciated as a serious culture center.

Then the pieces launches into a discussion of why we probably should have an inferiority complex:

This multi-museum event, in all of its Los Angeles-like sprawl, suggests a bit of overcompensation from a city that has long been overshadowed by the New York art establishment...

Besides every time you try to talk to an Angeleno about culture, all they want to talk about is box office figures:

...interest in culture starts and ends with movie grosses and who is on the cover of Vanity Fair.

But if you really want to lay on the burn sauce, you can't quote some art critic from New York. That would be way too obvious. Try to find someone from the Land of Enchantment where sheep and cattle outnumber human beings:

"It's corny," said Dave Hickey, an art critic and a professor in the art and art history department at the University of New Mexico. "It's the sort of thing that Denver would do. They would do Mountain Standard Time. It is '50s boosterish, and I would argue largely unnecessary."

This is the part where the New York Times begins conceding a few points, but oh-so-delicately as not to offend their sensitive readership. It turns out New York is not the center of the art universe. But! That's only because the art world has become more decentralized, so really no one — and certainly not Los Angeles — can claim to be at the cultural center of the art world, though it can certainly try:

"Since 1980 the art world has become global — New York is not the epicenter,” said Peter Plagens, a painter and essayist who has worked extensively in Southern California and who was here for some of the openings. "So L.A. is kind of doing this joust: 'We want our art history to be in the books.'"
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Los Angeles does have some pros going for it. Some artists come here because the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light of the sunny weather and cheap rent:

Indeed, Los Angeles these days has more than its share of ambitious museums, adventurous art galleries, wealthy collectors, top-notch art schools and — perhaps most important — young artists drawn here by relatively cheap rents, abundant light and an atmosphere that encourages experimentation.

Now that the NYT has conceded that the art world is decentralized and Los Angeles is sunny, it wants to make one thing clear: New York's art scene is still way, way better.

No one is suggesting that Los Angeles is about to supplant New York as an art capital; it is not lost on people here that the executive directors of three of the four biggest museums in Los Angeles came here from New York. James Cuno, the president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which is financing the event, noted the abundance of galleries, auction houses and money in New York.
"It's understandable that artists and collectors would find their way there," he said. "In the art world, the world tilts to New York. New York has been dominant and held our imagination since the late 1950s. That has cast everyone else in the shadows."

But to be fair and balanced, the NYT ends with a quote from Cuno who suggests that maybe we really don't have an inferiority complex — or if we do, at least it's not as bad as Chicago's!

Mr. Cuno said his perception was that people in Los Angeles did not really spend a lot of time worrying about what other people thought of them. "I don’t feel or hear any 'second city' mentality here," said Mr. Cuno, who came from Chicago, where that kind of talk is common. "People in Los Angeles are pretty happy with their position in the world and needn't get the confirmation from elsewhere."

This Cuno guy might be onto something. Maybe we don't have an inferiority complex. Maybe someone has a superiority complex and keeps lording it over us. We love you, New York. Really we do. But sometimes you gotta learn to chill out, bro.

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