In the late 1950s, when New York was the capital of the art world, Los Angeles was a leader in several industries that would improbably help LA to rival Manhattan in artistic importance. One was the movie business. Another was aerospace. Equally significant, LA was a place where many people lived without industry or artistic pretensions, thriving instead on sun and surf, sometimes augmented with spiritual practices and psychedelics.

Over several decades, these personal and professional factors would coalesce in ways that overcame the predominance of Abstract Expressionism and offered meaningful alternatives to Minimalism and other East Coast advances in abstraction. Hard-edge painting was pushed to a "fetish finish" perfection. Light and Space Art transformed museums into immersive environments. In myriad ways, Los Angeles artists combined cinematic effects with high-tech materials to create works surfacing their deep interest in perception, influenced by factors ranging from Zen Buddhism to the natural beauty surrounding them. These advances reached full maturity in the final decades of the 20th century.

Modernism Inc. has exhibited key Los Angeles abstractionists since the gallery’s founding in 1979, representing renowned painters including Charles Arnoldi, Edith Baumann, James Hayward, Peter Lodato, David Trowbridge, and John M. Miller. Building on this history, as well as the gallery's notable 1993 restaging of Four Abstract Classicists—a landmark 1959 Los Angeles County Museum exhibition that introduced the world to the creative ferment in Los Angeles—Modernism is pleased to present LA Abstraction: 1980-2000, a sweeping survey of fourteen major abstractionists who collectively reveal the diversity of abstractions that flourished some 2,500 miles from Manhattan.

Los Angeles artists paid close attention to visual perception from the beginning. In the early ‘60s, Larry Bell began to experiment with glass, fascinated by the ways in which it both reflected and absorbed light, defying its own materiality when coated with thin films of metal. Several years later, James Turrell discovered that he could make art with pure light passing through holes in his studio walls. Atmospheric effects were also explored by Mary Corse and Lita Albuquerque in painting and sculptural objects. Over the following decades, Light and Space Art would overtake entire galleries and spill out into the open, especially when Turrell and Albuquerque adapted optical effects to the tradition of Land Art. Simultaneously all of these artists worked in two dimensions, imbuing the traditional picture plane with unfathomable depth, as can be seen in numerous works on view at Modernism.

Related to Light and Space, and sometimes overlapping with it, was a fixation on formal abstraction, sometimes hard-edge or imbued with a fetish finish. The Modernism exhibition includes many fine examples. In the case of artists such as Scot Heywood, John M. Miller, Edith Baumann, Peter Lodato, and Alan Wayne, geometric compositions hold the eye in suspense through juxtaposition of colors and shapes that are always exacting and often surprising. James Hayward’s canvases show equal attention to perceptual nuance, achieved through the application of countless layers of oil paint, often of different hues, to create works that appear monochromatic and that seem to radiate captured light. Tony DeLap and David Trowbridge have both pushed formal abstraction into three dimensions, finishing materials such as wood to the same rigorous standards as their painted surfaces, breaching the divide between perception and reality.

The relentless experimentation present in all of this work is central to the work of Charles Arnoldi and Ed Moses, whose paintings round out the Modernism show. Over six decades, Arnoldi has found abstraction in the natural lines of gathered twigs, has assembled abstract compositions by segmenting painted plywood with a chainsaw, and has challenged distinctions between painting and drawing in acrylic abstractions that energetically press organic flourishes against hard-edge geometry. Moses was no less inventive over seven productive decades. An original member of the pioneering Los Angeles artists known as the Cool School (along with Larry Bell), Moses referred to himself as a “mutator” whose art was unified only by a commitment to mark-making in the service of perceptual discovery.

The vast range of Moses’s work is a sort of synecdoche for LA abstraction more broadly. Whether hard-edge or organic or rendered in thin coatings of metal, the works in LA Abstraction all awaken the viewer to the boundlessness of what the eye can see.