Starting Friday, Sept. 23, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) galleries in La Jolla will offer a 10-week look at “The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium.” The exhibition highlights a network of artists connected with UCSD’s Visual Art Department who, from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, discovered groundbreaking ways to portray the turbulent era in which they lived.
Their experiments with photography, often with video and text-and-image installations, opened the medium up to radical forms and subjects.
Founded in 1967, UCSD’s original VisArts department included National City-born conceptual artist John Baldessari and NYC poet/art critic David Antin, who moved here in 1969 with his wife, Eleanor Antin, a multi-dimensional performance and visual artist who would later join the faculty, too.
Among her varied works from the next two decades are the mock travel diary “100 Boots,” in which she staged photos of boots in settings all across the country, documenting their “journey” from coast to coast by turning them into postcards she mailed to recipients around the world.
The boots’ journey concluded with an exhibition at New York’s MOMA in 1973, and selections were shown at MCASD-La Jolla in 2014. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, she made videos starring herself as invented characters like the King of Solana Beach and Russian ballerina Eleonora Antinova, playing with the difference between the illusion of a picture and the reality behind it.
The Antins continue to live and work in Del Mar. He contributed an essay to the exhibition’s illustrated catalog; she will be part of a panel discussion 6-7 p.m. on opening night, Sept. 23.
The late Allan Kaprow (known for his performance art “Happenings”) and Martha Rosler (who made pioneering videos like “Semiotics of the Kitchen”) were also VisArts faculty, and next-generation Carrie Mae Weems, whose “Family Pictures and Stories” presented images of black life in America, received her MFA from UCSD in the early 1980s.
“The influence of these artists is felt throughout the contemporary art world, yet their common roots in San Diego have rarely been acknowledged,” said the show’s curator, Jill Dawsey. “This exhibition is the first to explore how their practices emerged in tandem at a critical time and place, when things were changing, and they were looking for new forms to show what was happening.”
Dawsey originally thought of having the exhibit end with the end of the 1970s. “But I really wanted to include some of the ‘second moment,’ like Carrie Mae Weems, and her considerations of identity, history, and the role of the viewer,” she said.
“The Uses of Photography” features about 100 works by 16 different artists, including installations, slide projections, audio and video recordings, artist’s books and monthly film screenings. It will be the last picture show at MCASD-La Jolla, which will close for major renovations in January.
IF YOU GO: “The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium,” will be on exhibit Sept. 24-Jan. 2 at MCASD La Jolla, 700 Prospect St. Opening Night Reception: 5:30-9 p.m. Sept. 23, free to members, UCSD faculty and students; $10 for non-members. At 6 p.m. there will be a panel discussion with Eleanor Antin, Fred Lonidier and Martha Rosler, moderated by curator Jill Dawsey; at 7 p.m. there will be exhibit tours, specialty cocktails and live music.
Sept. 24: 2 p.m. screening of “The Sky on Location” (1982) followed by Q&A with director Babette Mangolte. Free to members, UCSD faculty and students; free to non-members with paid museum admission.
Sept. 26: 2 p.m. tour the exhibit with curator Jill Dawsey. Free to members, UCSD faculty and students; free to non-members with paid museum admission. (858) 454-3541. mcasd.org