How a nasty winter brought revolutionary art to SoCal
by Marc Haefele
In 1962, a little museum in Pasadena held an exhibit that rocked the art world. One of those participants is featured in a new show at the Norton Simon Museum. But as Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele discovered, he wouldn’t have been in either show if it hadn’t … snowed.
Joe Goode is 79 and still painting vigorously in his studio near the Santa Monica Airport, but back in the early 1960s, he was sitting in a car in Oklahoma City with an old high school buddy. Artist Jerry McMillan was trying to convince him to join him in California.
"I was saying 'Oh, man, I don't know,'" Goode recalled. "When I opened the door I couldn't get it open, I thought 'Woah, what's wrong with your door?' and then I saw there was this much snow on the ground. And so I shut it back and said "OK, come and get me. I'll go with you."
When Goode got to L.A., he worked part time jobs and spent 18 months at LA's famed Chouinard Institute. He had a hard time making a living off his paintings. "At that time, there were maybe 100 artists in the whole city of Los Angeles, and there were very few galleries," Goode said. "But the advantage of a scene like that is you could do anything you wanted."
Then, in 1962, at what was then called the Pasadena Art Museum, a young genius curator named Walter Hopps organized an exhibit called “New Painting of Common Objects.” The works were by revolutionary young artists from all over America, reacting to the '50s popular culture of advertising, movies, TV and cartoons. They rejected the deeply established post-WWII New York tradition of abstract art. Hopps’ show included artists who’d become known as Pop painters: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud, Ed Ruscha … and Joe Goode, who suddenly had himself a career.
"It helped everybody out, because prior to that time, there had never been a museum show of pop art int he United States. So that means even Andy Warhol and those people had never been in a museum show before," Goode said.
"New Painting of Common Objects was a huge national hit. The following year, Hopps created a show for the man who could be called the avant gardegodfather of Pop Art, Marcel Duchamp, the man who put the mustache on the Mona Lisa and the urinal in the art gallery.
Duchamp’s work was still revolutionary to Goode and his generation of artists. The retrospective both revived Duchamp’s global reputation and authenticated the young American artists who followed in his steps,
At the Pasadena Art Museum exhibit, the artists mingled with their spiritual mentor, who turned out to be, in his 70's, far from the zany revolutionary you’d hope for. "He was very kind of quiet, gentle man," Goode said. "He's what you'd expect out of a dignified Frenchman."
Now, more than 50 years later at the Norton Simon, the successor to the Pasadena Art Museum, Tom Norris has curated “Duchamp to Pop,” which combines the two landmark 1960s shows, with works of the French master and his successors, including Goode.
Duchamp and the Pop artists changed the way we look at art and common objects, like urinals, comics, cakes and pies, soup cans and, for Goode, crystalline, old-fashioned, rectilinear milk bottles.
"I came home from working at Chouinard one day... and there's this milk bottle sitting on the steps. I saw that as an image, and the reason it struck me so much - and this is the part that a lot of people don't understand about my work, but it's what guides me - the idea of being able to see something by looking up, looking down, looking in and looking out. And so here I see this milk bottle, this transparent milk bottle, sitting on the steps that goes up and down... and it just totally formed the way I started thinking about paintings after that." -- Joe Goode to Marc Haefele