The Museum of Contemporary Art in Minsk, Belarus is pleased to present the work of 55 American Artists from 25 cities. “FROM AMERICA” will be on view from June 13 to July 10, 2006. The exhibition was curated by Los Angeles based artist MELA M.

“ From America “ could be subtitled “ From California”, not just because most of the artists in the exhibition are from the Golden State but also because, for the rest of the world, “America “ is located in California. Among the top five economies in the world (if the state were a nation), California’s top exports are entertainment and garbage. To those who decry popular culture, the difference lies in an arbitrary nomenclature, but “America” has become synonymous with the mass media made in California. It is common for American art discourse to compare New York with Los Angeles, and, because most of the art writing comes from New York, L.A. has been territory long ignored. But as the current exhibition at the Pompidou suggests, the neglect of the art of the Left Coast is ending, and it is now impossible to image contemporary art without the contributions of artists from Los Angeles.

According to the Parisian art writer, Serge Guilbault, New York “ Stole the Idea of Modern Art “ and the international art scene shifted to New York from Paris. Meanwhile, Los Angeles artists made art far from the glare of the spotlight and the scrutiny of the art market. Working in isolation, these artists had the freedom to create a unique art culture. While the artists in New York were yoked to the tradition and heritage of European art, especially painting, artists in Los Angeles were responding to their own European influences: the iconoclastic non-tradition of Dada.  Both Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray were major figures on the L.A. scene. In their wake, a local penchant for the oject trouve emerged. While New York painted and made money, impoverished L.A. artists worked with junk and puns and created material concepts from detritus.  While New York approached art with a philosophical detachment (Sol Le Witt), L.A. artists reacted the local cultures of aerospace technology, surfing, fashion, and the Kustom Kultuer of fast cars.  ( Ed Ruscha ) With their delight in sensuous materials, hard shiny “finish fetish” ( Tony Delap ), and the toys of grown-up boys—hot rods and motorcycles, the artists of Southern California were decried by the East Coast counterparts for the “hedonistic decadence”.

The New York art scene was centered upon the galleries and museums, but in L. A., there were few galleries and even fewer museums, forcing the art scene into the rapidly expanding art schools, colleges, and universities. As art departments opened, artists found employment and worked in a site where innovative art and ideas could be nurtured. Even marginalized artists of color, even excluded women and feminist artists were given a place at the educational table. To peruse the list of included artists is to read the history of teaching art. The tradition of open-mindedness and inclusion and the refusal to hierarchize the products of the visual culture has been passed on through art schools and art scenes. From Ruscha to Huerta, from Chicago to Lachowicz, a “tradition” of sorts has been formed in a landscape constantly on the move.

Where American Art will go from here is anyone’s guess, but one can predict with certainty that it will change. L. A. has always been identified with all that is new, novel, and mobile. It is commonplace in America to remark that one can look at California today and see what the nation will be in 20 years. By the time the rest of the country has caught up with the Golden State, we have moved on. Far more than other American cities, the City of the Angels has been dedicated to being on the cutting edge and will continue to throw away the past in order to make way for the future. The exhibition of California art in Paris is about the past; in contrast, the curator, Mela M has shown the art of the present, which is to say, she has brought the future to Belarus.

Essay by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette