Company Men

In the late 1960s, the LACMA's ambitious Art and Technology project sought to bring together contemporary artists with the biggest high-tech corporations of the day. The pairing was inspired: at the time, the art world of Los Angeles played second fiddle to New York, but Southern California was in the midst of an enormous boom in the technology industry, partially aided by an influx of military contracts during the drawn-out war in Vietnam. This year, LACMA published an online resource dedicated to the project, centered on a 392-page pdf of A & T's long out-of-print catalog, along with a selection of press clippings (one major criticism of the day: no women or people of color were invited as artists.) Over 40 corporations participated, including Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, Lockheed and Pan Am; of the 76 artists asked to submit proposals, 23 found productive matches with engineers and manufacturers. Fruitful combos included Andy Warhol and Cowles Communications (3-D printing), Robert Whitman and Philco-Ford (a massive mirror sculpture) and Claes Oldenberg and Disney (a giant hydraulic icebag), but many other projects were deemed technically or financially unfeasible. A & T's catalog makes for juicy reading, detailing the elaborate culture clash that occurred when suits and scientists had to work with cosmopolitan creative types and utopian longhairs. Perhaps the strangest marriage was that of John Chamberlain and the RAND Corporation, a military-aligned think-tank then largely seen as intellectual architects of nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War. For his project, Chamberlain arranged daily screenings in the RAND offices of his nudity-filled film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez, starring Ultra Violet and Taylor Mead, and circulated a series of conceptual memos asking staffers to submit "answers." One reply simply read: "The answer is to terminate Chamberlain." - Ed Halter