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Exhibition at the Kestner Gesellschaft focuses on the first ten years of CalArts
Judy Chicago, Orange Atmosphere, 1969. Feuerwerk Performance Performed im Brookside Park, Pasadena, CA © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Through the Flower Archives Courtesy die Künstlerin; Salon 94, New York; und Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.

HANNOVER.- Where Art Might Happen: The Early Years of CalArts focuses on the legendary founding years (1970– 1980) of the California Institute of the Arts, which has produced numerous well-known artists. This wide-ranging group exhibition presents a variety of perspectives on the school: parallel movements from the milieus of Conceptual Art, feminist art, and Fluxus as well as the school’s radical pedagogical concepts will be brought together for the first time.

A Radical Model for a School
CalArts, which was founded by Walt Disney, opened near Los Angeles in 1970. In its early years, the school developed a radical, groundbreaking model whose interdisciplinary nature was based on previous European and American examples such as the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College. It put teachers and students on equal footing and dispensed with a grading system. With the institutional establishment of conceptual and feminist concepts in John Baldessari’s “Post-Studio” course and Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago’s “Feminist Art Program,” CalArts played a pioneering role. Even then, the focus of the artistic debate was on current social issues such as the questioning of authorship, making artistic working methods more flexible, and the critique of patriarchal power structures.

The Exhibition at the Kestner Gesellschaft
Where Art Might Happen: The Early Years of CalArts focuses on the first ten years of the art school and for the first time brings together the school’s teaching concepts and the artistic practices that developed out of them in a group exhibition. The exhibition features some 100 works by around forty artists, including works that will be presented to the public for the first time.

This historically conceived exhibition traces various situations in which art can take shape. This is very much in the spirit of John Baldessari, who, as one of the school’s formative instructors, believed that art was not teachable, but that it was about creating situations “where art might happen,” as he stated in an interview in 1992. Key figures such as Allan Kaprow, John Baldessari, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Schapiro and their fundamental ideas of Fluxus, Conceptual Art, and feminist art will be illuminated.

In addition to artworks and archival materials, the exhibition also includes oral history interviews with thirteen CalArts artists who, as contemporary witnesses, provide individual insights on the situation at the time. In this way, the teaching methods, historical context, and the interdisciplinary connections between the artistic practices will be made visible in an exhibition for the first time. The zeitgeist of the 1970s will also be conveyed through stories of legendary pool parties, courses such as “Advanced Drug Research,” and the abandonment of grades and curricula as fixtures of life at the school. Furthermore, the interviews will reveal a range of personal and interpersonal details.

The art-historical reception of CalArts has so far been relatively one-sided. For instance, there has not yet been a comprehensive review of the various movements that existed in parallel. What makes the exhibition at the Kestner Gesellschaft unique is the fact that it brings together and thus reevaluates the various approaches of Conceptual Art, feminist art, Fluxus, and painting that existed at CalArts at the same time.

John Baldessari’s legendary Post-Studio course was characterized primarily by conceptual approaches and the use of the latest technologies, such as Super-8 cameras, Portapaks (the first battery-powered mobile movie camera), and cameras. Baldessari’s teaching resulted in a first generation of students who quickly achieved international recognition, including Barbara Bloom, Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Matt Mullican, David Salle, and James Welling. In a climate of absolute artistic freedom, teachers such as Michael Asher, Douglas Huebler, Stephen Prina, and Christopher Williams established a second poststudio generation that pursued a more rigid form of Conceptual Art. The question of pictorial representation in the flow of images in the media is a leitmotif within the various artistic approaches.

The interdisciplinary nature of the school is evident in various artistic practices. This connection between Post-Studio and Fluxus was shaped by key figures such as Wolfgang Stoerchle with his conceptual video and performance works and Stephan von Huene with his kinetic sound sculptures. References to both the Post-Studio concept and the Feminist Art Program can be found in the approaches of artists such as Ericka Beckman, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Tony Oursler, and Carrie Mae Weems.

The Exhibition and Research Project
The exhibition Where Art Might Happen: The Early Y ears of CalArts is the result of a three-year research project in cooperation with the Free University of Berlin (Prof. Dr. Annette Jael Lehmann), metaLAB (at) Harvard (Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Schnapp, Kim Albrecht), and IMAGE und CONTENT in Zurich (Reto Caduff, documentary filmmaker). The exhibition was supported by Verena Kittel as a research assistant and Julika Bosch as assistant curator.

The exhibition and research project are funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the Volkswagen Foundation, and Stiftung Niedersachsen. The exhibition is also supported by the friends of the Kestner Gesellschaft and private donations.
Annette Jael Lehmann, professor at the Institute of Theater Studies at Free University of Berlin, along with students of her master’s seminars, is publishing a work entitled T a cit K n o wle d g e : Post Studio/ Feminism – CalArts (1970 – 1977) with Spector Books. The highlight of the collaboration with the Free University of Berlin will be a public symposium that will take place on Saturday, 26 October 2019 at Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover. The speakers will include Kim Albrecht, Amelia Jones, Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, Jeffrey Schnapp, Beate Söntgen, Wolfgang Ullrich, and Eyal Weizman.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive catalog including essays by Géraldine Gourbe, Thomas Lawson, Annette Jael Lehmann, Glenn Phillips, Janet Sarbanes, and the editors of the book, Philipp Kaiser and Christina Végh, among others. The catalog, which is planned to appear in a German and an English edition, will be published by Prestel/Prestel DelMonico.

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