History: Redheads and L.A. of the sixties
November 27, 2015
Jacky Corliss Harvey is an author who writes frequently on the arts and their relationship(s) to aspects of poplar culture. Her latest effort in this endeavor is "Red: A History of the Redhead" (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers).
Her cast is broad, surveying portrayals of redheads from prehistory to our contemporary era, from Mary Magdalene to Lucille Ball with several other interesting roadside stops along the way.
Everyone knows, or assumes, that redheads are most prevalent in the British Isles — Scotland and Ireland. But did you know that the real "hotspot" for redheaded origins is in central Russia on the River Volga of that there are redheads in Afghanistan?
She explores, or at least speculates about, sexual di-morphism, why red-headed women are perceived as fiery vixens or fun loving scatterbrains, while red headed men are either savage barbarians or dim-witted clowns.
From origins of the recessive gene responsible for the trait, its association with Jewish society in Medieval Europe to its popularity during the renaissance and the Pre-Raphaelites fascination with red-headed models — one of which graces the cover of the book — it's an entertaining and engaging read about some little known aspects of visual culture.
Another kind of culture history can be found in William Hackman's "Out of Sight: The Los Angeles Art Scene of the Sixties" (Other Press).
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For many years the Art World was seen as rooted in Paris and then moving to New York. L.A. was generally overlooked but, in reality, it was during the 1960s that the art world was actually on a truck headed west from New York to Southern California.
Hackman traces the development of various aesthetic communities in L.A. from its beginnings in small, hip bohemian enclaves of the 1950s through the establishing of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the early '60s and the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1980.
In addition to fascinating profiles of many of the significant artists of the period—from Ed Ruscha and Edward Keinholz to John Baldessari and Vija Celmins — there is also an assaying of the political and fiscal shenanigans that brought about much of the building of the areas museum culture.
The well-written and well-researched book is also a lively cultural and social history of the city and its changing fortunes.
Kirk Robertson writes about the arts and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.