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Maurice Tuchman, A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Maurice Tuchman, A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Tuchman, Maurice. — A report on the art and technology program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967-1971. — New York: Viking, 1971. — 387 p. — ISBN 670133728.

In 1966, Maurice Tuchman, curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, California, introduced the Art and Technology (A&T) program. The mandate of this project, which was peripheral to the museum’s activities, was to promote an exchange between artists and the corporate world. Tuchman selected California companies capable of supporting art projects, either by contributing financially to the museum or by providing technical expertise, and in 1967 the museum’s corporate partnership proposal was officially launched to 250 companies. Of these, 37 responded to the request, with 40 others formally committing to contribute to the program. Tuchman then went about selecting American and European artists from all disciplines (visual arts, music, literature, etc.) whose proposals had the greatest potential of generating productive dialogue with industry. Once the official announcement of the program appeared in the press, a number of artists who had not been approached by Tuchman came forward to propose projects to LACMA.

Tuchman and his colleague, curator Jane Livingston, set out to pair artists and companies in the most advantageous manner. After overseeing the project’s logistics, they supervised its material achievement. In addition, certain works produced in conjunction with the program were presented at the American pavilion during the 1970 Osaka World Exposition and at LACMA the same year.

The report is a collection of documents and testimonials from 1966 to 1971, the years that the program was active. It also constituted the catalogue for the exhibition of works at the American pavilion in Osaka.

In his introduction, Tuchman adopts a pragmatic approach, notably by recalling the origins of LACMA’s Art and Technology (A&T) program. He begins by describing the five contribution categories offered by the museum (Patron Sponsor, Sponsor Corporation, Contributing Sponsor, Service Corporation, Benefactor), which ranged from a minimum donation of $7000 to a 12-week corporate residency program.

While acknowledging the experimental aspect of this project, in terms of its potential to open doors for artists and businesses, Tuchman maintains that the exhibition of the works allowed the program to come full circle by responding to the museum’s educational mandate in particular. He describes the methodology applied to ensure that the projects progressed as planned. The clauses in the respective contracts between the companies and artists (these documents are included in his introduction) were intended to prevent the subordination of one by the other. As a result, during the creative process, both parties enjoyed the flexibility to refuse or accept the partnership initiated by the museum. An initial pairing of artist and corporation and follow-up visits by the curators permitted artists to clearly define their needs prior to committing to the collaboration. Moreover, in his analysis of the program’s impact, Tuchman explains that for some artists, there existed an ideological reluctance to enter into a skills exchange with the business sector, and he describes the conflicts that surfaced between the two camps during certain residencies. He then examines the reasons for a project’s ultimate success or failure: the image projected by the artist, misunderstandings that arose during the collaboration, the imbalance between limited resources and unlimited ideas, etc. Tuchman concludes by describing the difficulties of organizing and installing works in the American pavilion at the Osaka World Exposition.

In “Thoughts on Art and Technology,” Jane Livingston makes a distinction between the aims of this program and the utopian efforts to fuse art and technology during the avant garde era (Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism, Bauhaus). The optimism that abounded in the early 20th century was no longer shared by the artistic community of the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, some artists felt that the appropriation of technology by big business was to blame for the alienation of the masses. For others, entry into the realm of the new media was simply an inevitable fact of modern life. According to Livingston, the growing interest in systemic theories (theories inspired by behaviourism and cybernetics) provided middle ground between these respectively technophobe and technophile perspectives. While not condemning technological advancement outright, artists who were part of the system aesthetics “movement” sought to determine to what extent their work fit into the larger arena of social, political and scientific phenomena. In her analysis of the A&T program’s offerings, the curator identifies three broad approaches to the artists’ collaboration with the corporate world. In the first scenario, the artist needed corporate assistance to produce the components of a work of art already begun prior to the collaboration (Richard Serra’s project with Kaiser Steel, for example). Other artists also sought to produce an object of art, but were experimenting with materials, which, while available in industry, were still new to the art world (lasers, luminescent fluids, holography, computers). In the third more radical approach, the artist desired no direct material gain from the project, but instead viewed the collaboration and the exchange it generated as an artistic proposal in itself (John Chamberlain at Rand Corporation, Robert Irwin and James Turrell at the Garrett Corporation, James Lee Byars at the Hudson Institute).

The second section of the report describes how the program progressed according to these three broad approaches. It brings together all of the texts submitted by the artists to the museum during the preliminary phases of their projects or written after the fact by curators Tuchman and Livingston. The documents pertaining to the transactions (even if unsuccessful) between LACMA, the artists and the partner companies are included in the publication, many accompanied by technical diagrams and photographs of the numerous design and production steps inherent in the projects. For some projects where only technical assistance was requested by the artist and no other collaboration was involved, the texts meticulously describe the material realization of the work (Oyvind Fahlstrom, Boyd Mefferd, Richard Serra). Other texts outline the difficulties encountered during the process, stemming from the exchange between artist and corporation. For example, in one summary, we learn that John Chamberlain was shunned by the employees of Rand Corporation after he chose to involve himself in their day-to-day work rather than use the expertise made available to him. Livingston also categorizes the first meeting between poet John Marlow and IBM engineers as a failure, while a previous pairing of the artist with Information International, another computer company, resulted in conditions that fostered a successful collaboration.

The text on the ultimately successful Oldenburg project primarily deals with the artist’s ambivalence to the rigid work methods imposed by the Disney Corporation. Conversely, descriptions of the Robert Whitman and Robert Rauschenberg projects demonstrate the extent to which diplomacy and technical expertise could contribute to a project’s success (both artists knew the collaborative process well, having co-founded Experiments in Art and Technology) (1). In an isolated example of subordination by an artist in the program, Livingston explains that Andy Warhol delegated certain important aesthetic decisions to representatives of Cowles Communications, Inc.

Moreover, proposals bordering on conceptual art saw knowledge acquisition replace material gains as a concrete result of the program.

Robert Irwin and James Turrell, the only artists who teamed up for the program, took advantage of their residency at the Garrett Corporation to conduct research into perception conditioning. The text describes the various sensory deprivation experiments conducted in the anechoic chamber of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the conference that followed as the only activities of this project. Similarly, James Lee Byars suggested that his presence at the Hudson Institute and the various activities he organized while there constituted an artistic and not a derived work (“Putting Byars at the Hudson Institute is the artistic product”).

The report’s final section consists of historical notes on each participating company together with its logo and its artist in residence, followed by a list of the companies that were approached by LACMA but declined to participate.

Vincent Bonin © 2005 FDL