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West Wall, Unoccupied Industrial Structure, 20 Airway Drive, Costa Mesa
LACMA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Lewis Baltz; Courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art
This picture by Lewis Baltz is just one example of the hidden treasures in the Photography Department collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Baltz is a seminal figure in the recent history of photography, not just in California but in general. He was one of several photographers working in the West who were included in a 1975 exhibition titled "New Topographics." This term stuck because the icy objectivity it suggested was the essential quality that the photographs shared. Almost all cast a cold eye on a landscape being transformed by human incursion.
Baltz's photographs are minimal in every way. They adapt, eerily, the aesthetic of Minimalism then being created by painters and sculptors. But they also confront, as if in silent protest, the minimal modern architecture of tract housing and industrial parks. Their mix of cool scrutiny and irrepressible complaint is intended to disconcert. It affected viewers that way 30 years ago, and it continues to do so today when such feelings are more common partly because of Baltz's own images.
I said treasures like this are hidden at LACMA because the Photography Department has had scant opportunity to show its permanent collection. Since 2001, just one exhibition has been organized as a showcase for the museum's holdings in photography, which the department has been able to exhibit on a regular basis in only a short
Perhaps the museum expansion now underway will make new space possible. Since the department was founded more than 20 years ago, with an acquisition policy focused primarily on work done after 1940, a collection of more than 8,000 photographs has been assembled. Certainly the public could benefit from more frequent access to this accumulated wealth of art.
[Originally published in West Magazine : May 7, 2006, p.15]