Used and New: Artists’ Engagement with Materials in Southern California in the Late 1950s and 1960s

By Kirstin L. Ellsworth.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the 1960s, artists in Southern California created objects inscribed in the critical literature as vanguard for the incorporation of technologically advanced materials. Billy Al Bengston, Craig Kauffman, Helen Pashgian, Dewain Valentine, Judy Chicago, and others employed resins, vacuum formed plastic, and commercial automotive paint in predominantly abstract, iconic works of the period. Artists’ use of the new media resonated with Los Angeles’ presence as a “city of the future” dominated by the aerospace industry and a freeway culture that afforded the height of mobility through the automobile. However, the context of artistic production in Los Angeles in the 1960s was informed by a much more complex dialogue concerning materials overlooked in most analyses of the period. Starting in the late 1950s and continuing through the 1960s, artists associated with California’s assemblage movement, most notably Edward Kienholz, employed the rejected material of society, the out-of-date, the broken, and the used, to create highly representational tableaux critiquing notions of progress in the development of postwar America. This article argues that far from incompatible or polarizing, in Southern California from the late 1950s through the 1960s, the use of “old” and “new” materials provided artists an essential context for producing objects that explored a central problem in American art of the late 20th Century: the fetishization of new media in a culture of planned obsolescence.

Keywords: California Assemblage, California Light and Space Movement, Los Angeles, 1960s, Edward Kienholz, Helen Pashgian, Dewain Valentine, Judy Chicago

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 6, pp.171-176. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 587.515KB).

Dr. Kirstin L. Ellsworth

Lecturer, California State University, Los Angeles, Dominguez Hills, USA

Kirstin L. Ellsworth received her Ph.D. in the History of Art from Indiana University (2005) with a specialization in American art of the 1960s. Recent publications include “Africobra and the Negotiation of Visual Afrocentrisms” in Civilisations 58.1 (2009). Dr. Ellsworth has presented at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. and is currently a lecturer at California State University, Dominguez Hills.


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