Venice Days, Part I

Here’s the introduction for a piece commissioned by curator Jacqueline Miro for the “Venice in Venice” exhibit at the 54th International Biennale  that she and gallerist Tim Nye mounted. Though it was technically  a piece of collateral, neither of them put any constraints on it–they just set me free to write.

Shimmied between a suburb-centric city, Los Angeles, and a misnamed body of water, the Pacific, lies Venice—a whole other country.

Its only derivative idea is Venice, California, it­self, a faux-palazzo’s faux-colonnade ori­ented west. Beyond that single forgiven, place-generating mark is explosive. The beach, the ghetto, the artists.

John Baldessari, Wallace Berman, Vija Celmins, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Barbara Smith, Andy Warhol all established studios, showed, or lived here before taking up in the land of the acronym. MOMA, The Met, The New Tate.

By the late 1960s and mid-1970s fully two generations of artists occupied Venice territory—a thin strip of land between the besieged ’hood to the east and the riptides to the west. The first group loosely centered around Los Angeles’ legendary Ferus artists, the second—a new crowd about to experience heady early success.

As the sweet promise of the sixties gave way to 1970s America—Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon, and white polyester—they moved through the altered universe of Venice-time.

Swell spoke to six artists who were entrenched in the area, to discover the place of the time. But if you have to go East to go West, to know Venice in the 1960s, you need to begin a decade earlier, so that’s where we started…

[Drop by  again to read Parts 2 and beyond.]

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