Rodney Graham, Halcion Sleep, 1994, 26 minute video, variable dimensions.
Left, Ken Price, Surfing, 1961. Postcard; right, Brian Calvin, Over and Over Again, 2002, Acrylic on linen, 152.5 x 122cm.
Sister Corita Kent, Who Came Out of the Water, 1966, Serigraph on pellon 76.4 x 91.7cm. Courtesy of Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Photograph Tate.
Thomas Demand, still from Recorder, 2002, 35mm film 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
Ed Ruscha, I Plead Insanity Because I'm Just Crazy About That Little Girl, detail, 1976, Pastel on paper, 57.8 x 73 cm, Photograph Tate.
Max Ernst, Cage, Forest and Black Sun (Cage, forêt et soleil noir), 1927, Oil on canvas, 114 x 146 cm.
Sister Corita Kent, Song About the Greatness, detail, 1964, Serigraph on pellon 76 x 91cm, Courtesy of Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community.
Jim Isermann, Untitled, 1990. Enamel paint and acrylic yarn shag on wood panels, 243 cm x 243 cm x 5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles, Photograph Tate.
Peter Blake, Beach Boys, 1964, Screenprint on paper, 53 x 30.8 cm, Tate © Peter Blake, Photograph © Tate.
Tate St. Ives
If Everybody Had an Ocean:
An Art Exhibition
May 26-September 23, 2007
This exhibition takes as its premise the life and music of Brian Wilson, the creative force behind The Beach Boys between 1962-7.
Here, Wilson’s music becomes a prism through which to view developments in art history and Southern California from the 1960s. Loosely chronological, the paintings, sculptures, installations, photo-text works and films of some 31 artists, offer unexpected perspectives on Wilson’s cultural achievement.
This relationship between art, music and myth is framed by Tate St Ives’ stunning backdrop: Porthmeor Beach, a glorious stretch of sand where surf is usually up.
Featuring work by: Billy Al Bengston, Peter Blake, Mel Bochner, John Cage, Brian Calvin, Vija Celmins, Russell Crotty, Thomas Demand, Kaye Donachie, Isa Genzken, Liam Gillick, Jeremy Glogan, Joe Goode, Rodney Graham, Roger Hiorns, Richard Hawkins, Jim Isermann, Sister Corita Kent, John McCracken, Lee Mullican, Kaz Oshiro, Raymond Pettibon, Richard Pettibone, Ken Price,Bridget Riley, Allen Ruppersberg, Ed Ruscha, Jim Shaw, Fred Tomaselli, Jennifer West, Pae White, Daria Wilson.
If Everybody Had an Ocean has three main phases. The first considers the interplay between avant-garde art and popular culture, particularly in relation to surf, custom cars and Southern California as a mythical teenage utopia.
The second is made up of multi-coloured, more or less abstract images and objects that share what Wilson called the ‘psychedelicacy’ of his kaleidoscopic studio productions — this becomes the exhibition’s instrumental section.
The third evokes the gap between the popular image of The Beach Boys and Wilson’s own more turbulent internal world. It suggests the dystopian flipside of the Californian dream, together with the loss of innocence that 1960s baby boomers underwent at the close of that revolutionary decade.
If Everybody Had an Ocean is curated by Alex Farquharson. Organized by Tate St Ives in association with CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux. The exhibition was preceded by Brian Wilson: an Art Book, Four Corners Books, 2005. A new publication will accompany this exhibition, with texts by the curator and David Toop and an interview with Brian Wilson by Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, Billy Al Bengston, John McCracken and Ken Price, seen here in the first part of the exhibition, are representatives of Pop Art and Minimalism in Southern California in the 1960s. These five, together with eight of their fellow artists, appear in Goode’s LA artists in their cars, a calendar the artist made for the year 1969 in a large edition.
The emergence of these tendencies roughly coincides with the Beach Boys’ first releases of 1963, devoted to the themes of surf, custom cars and high school romance under an endless sun. With Beach Boys songs flooding the airwaves, Southern California quickly attained mythical status around the world, particularly for young people in older, colder environments. However, only Dennis, one of the three Wilson brothers in the band, actually surfed.
Pop Art, as one would expect, reflected the iconography of Los Angeles. Minimalism on the American West Coast also embodied its social environment: the materials and processes the sculptors used were shared by local surfboard shapers and car customisers. Like them, and like Brian Wilson’s approach to the Beach Boys’ famous harmonies, these artists laboured away in pursuit of the perfect sheen, inspired by the brilliant Californian light. The better-known Minimalists in New York, meanwhile, tended to take materials as they found them. LA art of successive generations is unusually open to, though not necessarily uncritical of, its social environment. Unlike most of the Beach Boys, many of the artists surfed.
Mel Bochner’s Beach Boys 100 percent March 1967, is one of the first to use a page of a magazine as site for an artwork, a strategy explored by other Conceptual artists in the late 60s, such as Dan Graham and Robert Smithson. The text here is entirely appropriated from a range of sources.
Starting in 1963, Ed Ruscha’s self-published books inaugurated the genre of the artist book. Each book presents variations of a single motif: palm trees, apartments, swimming pools, parking lots, and so on. Together they evoke the distinctive topography of the Los Angeles that we also recognise from Beach Boys lyrics around that time. The images in the books are without commentary; it’s up to us to decide what these books are and what to do with them.
Peter Blake, a key figure in British Pop Art since the 1950s and a fan of the Beach Boys from the outset of their careers, designed the album art for Brian Wilson’s Getting in Over my Head 2004 after Wilson read that Blake would rather have designed the cover for Pet Sounds 1966 than the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967.
“Brian composed musical effects like the first viewing of a sunset to a once blind person.”
— Nik Venet
“During the recording of Pet Sounds I dreamt I had a halo over my head.”
— Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson wrote, arranged and produced most of the Beach Boys’ music from 1962-7, while the lyrics were usually written by others: Beach Boy and first cousin Mike Love, or else Roger Christian, Gary Usher, Tony Asher (Pet Sounds) and Van Dyke Parks (SMiLE). A question arises: do the lyrics equate to Brian’s own understanding of the songs? What else might the music be about?
In 1964, following a nervous breakdown on a plane while touring, Brian decided he would no longer tour with the band. Instead he would devote his energies to writing and producing the new music, not only for the Beach Boys but also for a host of other singers and groups. By the mid 1960s he had abandoned the formula that had made the Beach Boys an international sensation, exchanging simple rock arrangements for unprecedented syntheses of classical, jazz, folk, pop, exotica and avantgarde idioms. Besides a wealth of conventional instruments, he was incorporating diverse found sounds: water flowing, his dogs barking, materials burning, and so on (his eponymous “pet sounds” perhaps) — techniques that recall the Cubist and Dada legacies of collage and the readymade. The recording studio was where Wilson felt most comfortable and empowered; it held the same sense of possibility that the studio holds for many visual artists.
The more or less abstract work in this room may suggest the kaleidoscopic, almost synæsthetic qualities of the music. It functions as the exhibition’s instrumental. When asked in an interview in the mid-1960s if he was psychedelic, Wilson replied he was ‘psychedelicate’. Ironically, for an undisputed pop genius with perfect pitch, Wilson has been 90 percent deaf in one ear since an infant.
Synæsthesia is a benign condition whereby one sense is confused with another: hearing with sight, for instance. Music has often been invoked in support of abstract art. Kandinsky, who titled many of his paintings Composition and Improvisation, is believed to have been synæsthetic. Bridget Riley has often written on the relationship between music and abstraction as it applies to her work and the work of others.
Sister Corita Kent was a pop artist, a political activist, an innovative educator and a Catholic nun who belonged to the Immaculate Heart Community in Los Angeles in the 1950s-60s. Her typographic style and education methods were admired by design luminaries Charles and Ray Eames, Buckminster Fuller and Saul Bass. Her prints blend fragments from advertising slogans with religious and avant-garde poetry and pop song lyrics from the time.
Jennifer West’s "cameraless" films are made by marinating film stock in a range of suggestive substances.
Jeremy Glogan’s Smile Shop Door and Smile Shop Smiles borrow elements from Frank Holmes’ original album art for Brian Wilson’s unfinished masterpiece SMiLE (1966-67). The cover depicts a shop selling smiles. The album was so near completion that Capitol Records printed 500,000 covers.
While the band was on tour, Brian Wilson was in the studio in late 1966 working on his most ambitious project yet, SMiLE, which he once called his “teenage symphony to God”. The song cycle was written using the modular method he developed for ‘Good Vibrations’ with surrealistic, comi-tragic lyrics by Van Dyke Parks recounting the founding of America, from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii, interspersed with Brian’s oddball humour (songs devoted to Vegetables and his Wind Chimes, for example). But Wilson abandoned what would have been the Beach Boys’ Sgt Pepper on the brink of completion, plagued by inner turmoil, adverse reactions to LSD, pressure from his overbearing father and some members of the group, and a legal dispute with Capitol Records.
At the age of just twenty-four, after four phenomenally productive years, he became a virtual recluse, rarely moving from his bedroom to join the other Beach Boys in the studio they’d built for him at his home. The years 1967-73 witnessed the group at their most collaborative, making a sequence of underrated, commercially unsuccessful albums, before succumbing to nostalgically reprising their old hits. By then Brian’s life was dominated by a lethal mix of severe substance abuse, undiagnosed mental illness, extreme obesity and unpredictable behaviour. His life may have been saved by an unorthodox psychiatrist who ended up controlling everything he did for several years. His final, full contribution to the Beach Boys was a strange, child-like and beguiling collection of songs titled The Beach Boys Love You, 1977 (original title: Brian Wilson Loves You), that took in such topics as the solar system, a roller skating girl and talk show host Johnny Carson.
In the last decade or so Brian Wilson has shaken off many of his old demons, begun a new family, toured and recorded with a new band and committed himself to philanthropic causes (he personally telephoned each individual who gave more than $100 to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and matched their donations). He stunned fans in 2005 by announcing the resurrection of SMiLE, rock’s holy grail, debuting it live at the Royal Festival Hall and recording it anew with old collaborator Van Dyke Parks. It is the sweeter, sadder, more introspective side to his sound, coupled with his extraordinary production work on Pet Sounds and SMiLE which continues to inspire young musicians.
This third part of the exhibition is the most biographical in the exhibition, though its subject — as in Allen Ruppersberg’s Where’s Al?, 1972 — is as often as not missing from the action, his place occupied instead by rumour and myth.
Halcion Sleep 1994, is a self-portrait of artist and musician Rodney Graham asleep in the back of a car in native Vancouver, under the influence of the eponymous prescription drug. Rodney’s next album is titled Mike Love.
Jim Shaw’s The Beach Boys Weekend 1988 is a comic book transcription of Wavelength 1966, a landmark Structuralist film by Canadian filmmaker Michael Snow. The series it belongs to, My Mirage, narrates the highs and lows of an American baby-boomer through the decades, in works of the exact same size in various media.
“Isn’t their something depressing about sunlight?” asks artist Jeremy Deller in the catalogue accompanying this exhibition. Brian’s sun, for much of his life, was the eclipsed one of Max Ernst’s Cage, Forest and Black Sun 1927 and Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia 1992. He wrote The Lonely Sea, a haunting ballad that sounds like a Vija Celmins drawing, at the time his effervescent surf songs were topping the charts.
The titles of Kaye Donachie’s paintings come from lyrics to Beach Boys songs: I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times from Pet Sounds 1966 and Never Learn Not to Love from 20/20 1969. The latter was based on a song Charles Manson wrote called Cease to Exist. Shortly before the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders, Manson and his ‘Family’ lived for a time in Dennis Wilson’s home. Reputedly Dennis himself narrowly missed assassination; Manson was supposedly livid that the Beach Boys had changed his lyrics to something less macabre.
The image that formed the basis of Thomas Demand’s Recorder 2002 — a 35mm film of an animated sculpture constructed entirely from paper — came from a TV documentary on the link between Dennis Wilson and Charles Manson. The soundtrack, by Mark Nelson, samples a fragment from SMiLE known as the Bicycle Rider.