Ah Ha Bruce NAUMAN 1975 screenprint

California Cool Art and Los Angeles 1960s–70s

This exhibition draws on the gallery’s substantial collection of international prints and photographs to highlight the way a ground-breaking generation of artists residing on America’s west coast responded to both the promise and the hard truth of life in contemporary America.

For a period during the 1960s and 1970s, the centre of American art shifted from New York to Los Angeles. What had previously been considered a cultural backwater—whose contribution to American cultural life was limited to suburban sprawl and Hollywood cinema—became the nucleus for a young generation of artists drawn to the promise of freedom and opportunity offered by the west coast’s eternal sunshine, expansive space and shiny gleaming surfaces. The psychological force that had underwritten New York’s ascendancy as the postwar global art centre was replaced with a new American aesthetic, one that personified the look and the aspirations of the American dream.

But while the work made by the ground-breaking generation of artists who resided on America’s west coast during the 1960s and ‘70s seemed to present a picture of paradise on wheels, their work also unpicked the dark underbelly of America’s mythology. Images of sunshine, sex and unrestricted movement sat alongside those laying bare the reality of life in contemporary America—a place of increasing social inequality, loneliness, civil unrest and constraint. California Cool draws on the gallery’s substantial collection of international prints and photographs to highlight the way American artists responded to both the promise and the hard truth of life in contemporary America.