Artist Helen Pashgian, one of this year’s honorees at the LACMA Art+Film Gala presented by Gucci on November 5, was celebrated for her storied career and her pioneering work as one of the founders of the Light and Space Movement in California.
When it comes to artworks from the Light and Space Movement, it is often said that they cannot be fully conveyed through photos and video, but must be interacted with, placing considerable importance on the personal experience of the viewer. During a conversation with Pashgian in her Pasadena studio, she spoke of several instances in which upon such an interaction with one of her signature sculptures, the observer recounted having been changed, but was unable to articulate precisely how. Reflecting on how diverse art forms impact our state of being, she agreed that fashion could relate in that sense, saying the silk floral Gucci gown she wore to the LACMA Art+Film Gala “felt like a dream.”
The fact that she unabashedly chose to finish her look with a pair of Screener sneakers is indicative of her penchant to blaze her own trail. “So many people have asked me if I was conscious of the other Light and Space artists that were working in the middle 60s. They were all in Venice, they were all men… I was fascinated by what the others were doing, but I was very shy during those years and I was so focused on my work that I was already on a course of my own.” It is widely acknowledged that Pashgian’s role as a pioneer of the male-dominated Light and Space Movement in the 1960s was long underrecognized as her contribution has come significantly to the fore only in recent years. The artist herself does not dwell on this point, preferring to engage in discourse that unites rather than divides, and keeping the focus on the art.
Each of Pashgian’s works is an endeavor to capture and convey light – the very element that fascinated the artist as a three-year-old while observing the ever-changing luminescence within coastal tide pools and the very element that drew so many artists and filmmakers to Southern California and made Los Angeles a photographic movie capital. Speaking to this creative connection, proceeds from the annual Art+Film Gala go in part toward underwriting LACMA’s initiative to make film more central to the museum’s curatorial programming.
Speaking about ‘Untitled’ (2012-2013), her first large-scale sculptural installation featured in the 2014 ‘Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible’ exhibit at LACMA, she said “These works are about an affirmation of this place. They’re really landscapes and seascapes. They are about making the invisible visible.” This undertaking of ‘making the invisible visible,’ so abstract and so deliberate at the same time, is indeed central to Pashgian’s driving narrative: “I’m always interested in something approaching or disappearing where something moves just outside your ability to capture it so that you want to follow it. What is just around the corner; what is just out of grasp; what is just at the periphery of what you can see, and comprehend, and feel,” she said.
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