Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Divola's Zuma Series, 1977-1978, at MOCA Geffen's, "Under the Big Black Sun

Suzanne Minatra

8 March 2012

Our travels to Los Angeles brought us down from San Francisco just in time for the final day of MOCA Geffen's Pacific Standard Time exhibition, "Under the Big Black Sun." The show was, quite frankly, overwhelmingly huge, with 500 art works from 139 artists. "Under the Big Black Sun" is a survey of California art from the time of Nixon's resignation in 1974to Regan's inauguration in 1981. Rather than being organized chronologically or by media, this show was curated according to theme, showing the turbulent state of the mid to late 1970s.

As I mentioned earlier, the show was massive; I found myself wandering through as if I were in a labyrinth, having completely lost everyone I'd come with. I made my way through gallery after gallery trying to take in as much of the show as possible; there was so much to see and so much ground to cover. just as I felt the museum fatigue settle in and was ready to throw in the towel and take a break I stumbled upon John Divola's peculiar Zuma Series. Divola (b. 1949) is a Los Angeles based Photographer who, with this series, documented the disintegration of the beachfront community Zuma Beach in Malibu between 1977 and 1978. Divola explored abandoned, dilapidated ocean front properties looking for photographic opportunities, sometimes orchestrating his view by applying spray paint to the interiors of the rooms. In his statement about this work, Divola says:

"On initially arriving I would move through the house looking for areas or situations to photograph. If nothing seemed to interest me I would move things around or do some spray painting. The painting was done in much the same way that one might doodle on a piece of paper. At one that point I would return to the camera and explore what ever new potentials existed."

The end results were super saturated images of brilliant seascapes juxtaposed through the broken windows of soon to be demolished prime beachfront real estate.

John Divola, Zuma #25 (1978/2006), from Zuma Series, 1977–78 (

For some time I have been vaguely captivated by Divola's Zuma Series, though, until now, had only seen online reproductions. Online representations of Divola's image do not do then justice at all. His images are mesmerizing, the intense color of the California setting sun draws the viewer in. Furthermore, Divola's images were hung at a size and height that allowed the audience to enter the scene. I, for one, felt as if I were present in the 1970s ramshackle Zuma Beach homes. The Zuma Series was hung on a wall that spawned two galleries, occupying a transition space. Viewing the images in this space felt vaguely odd, I often had to step out of the way of visitors who were moving through the threshold between the two galleries. The feeling was interesting in conjunction with the subject matter of the work, both places felt like places that I shouldn't have been occupying.

John Divola, Zuma #8 (1977/2006), from Zuma Series, 1977–78 (

Though the work was made in the 1970s, the Zuma Series remains especially timely and relevant today. The country is in the middle of a financial crisis, with the sate of the American people Ina constant flux. People must alter their practice in order to fall in line with the progression of current affairs. As such, this is how Divola describes his connection with the Zuma Beach circumstances:

"These photographs are the product of my involvement with an evolving situation. The house evolving in a primarily linear way toward its ultimate disintegration, the ocean and light evolving and changing in a cyclical and regenerative manner. My acts, my painting, ,y photographing, my considering, are part of, not separate from, this process of evolution and change. These photographs are not so much about this process as they are remnants from it. My participation was not so much one of intellectual consideration as one of visceral involvement."

Might Divola's images be visual evidence of the collapse of the American Dream? He presents the ideal lifestyle, a room with a view, yet while the view remains as picturesque as ever, the room has fallen to ruin.

John Divola, Zuma #9 (1978/2006), from Zuma Series, 1977–78 (

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