The NYT on Pacific Standard Time: Lazy and clichéd.


There are journalistic tropes that are so long running that it seems that they are no longer even recognized as tropes. One of these is the whole East Coast/West Coast, New York/L.A. view of the world — applied liberally to the world of hip-hop in the ’90s. The other is that L.A. is a provincial agglomeration of Variety-reading, plastic surgery-enhanced, vacuous show business wannabes who care about nothing other than their Q ratings and their cars. Both of these clichés received ample column inches in Adam Nagourney’s story about Pacific Standard Time in the New York Times.

One of my standing rules on this blog is to try not to complain too regularly about the New York Times because a) it gets boring, b) that’s what everyone else does, and c) life is too damn short. But this story sent the little Califas chola that lives inside of me reaching for the razor blades she keeps tucked inside her hairdo (partially because I spent a LOT of time researching my own story about PST). And reach for those razor blades is just what I’m gonna do.

My paragraph by paragraph breakdown of Nagourney’s piece of…

1.) Nagourney kicks off with an East Coast/West Coast Narrative Arc.
This is articulated thusly right in the second paragraph (the “nut” graf, as it were): “This multi-museum event, in all of its Los Angeles-like sprawl, suggests a bit of overcompensation from a city that has long been overshadowed by the New York art establishment…” So a project that was about establishing a record of haphazardly covered movements, artists and communities becomes about loopy L.A. trying to be like it’s big, more cultured brother New York. Aren’t we over this? Isn’t this what killed Tupac and Biggie? Isn’t this just…boring… at this point?

2.) He then adds in a line about The Vapid Angeleno.
Again, let’s cut to the nut graf: “…a place that — arguably unfairly — still suffers from a reputation of being more about tinsel than about serious art, and where interest in culture starts and ends with movie grosses and who is on the cover of Vanity Fair.” Okay, so he qualifies it with “arguably unfairly.” But seriously, are we still on this? Of all the music, art, architecture and literature the place has produced and we’re still harping on the three mile radius around Beverly Hills? Has anyone told Nagourney that L.A. is 80 miles wide? That it’s majority minority? That people do stuff like work in defense, manufacturing and engineering?

3.) He then includes a horrible Dave Hickey quote.
Hickey says: “It’s corny…It’s the sort of thing that Denver would do. They would do Mountain Standard Time. It is ’50s boosterish, and I would argue largely unnecessary.” This unfortunate quote isn’t entirely Nagourney’s fault — because Hickey comes off like an asshole all on his own — but when the first quote of the story is given over to a guy who lives in New Mexico, and who it seems hasn’t been to any of the shows, well… (And let’s hope Hickey doesn’t have to make any appearances in Denver any time soon, a city that, incidentally, is about to open a museum dedicated to painter Clyfford Still.)

4.) And it’s followed by a Peter Plagens quote.
Which is inoffensively uninteresting (more East Coast/West Coast), but again: second quote in a story about PST and no one who currently lives in California has been quoted. This is then followed by a generic quote from Jeffrey Deitch, who has lived in Cali for all of five minutes and will likely be there for only five minutes more. Clearly, all the news that’s fit to print.

 5.) He then tosses in a random list of shows.
Which refers to the Hammer Museum’s Now Dig This! exhibit as showcasing the work of “local African-American artists.” Is he for serious? Does he know the show contains work by artists such as David Hammons? Who could crush Nagourney’s skull with his thoughts? And whose works are a part of MoMA’s permanent collection? And whose piece African-American Flag can be currently seen in MoMA’s second floor galleries and hanging from the façade of the Studio Museum in Harlem? Does Nagourney even go to museums when he’s in New York?

6.) Then we’re back to more East Coast/West Coast.
“No one is suggesting that Los Angeles is about to supplant New York as an art capital; it is not lost on people here that the executive directors of three of the four biggest museums in Los Angeles came here from New York.” Blah blah New York blah blah Los Angeles blah blah New York blah blah. Are New Yorkers capable of writing stories about Los Angeles that don’t mention New York?

7.) Obligatory reference to Venice Beach.
He then lets us know that he knows that there are some artists living in Venice: “The sheer sprawl of the city means that it is hard to have the kind of concentrated art district that has characterized New York over the last 50 years, though there has long been an influential colony of artists out in Venice.” Except the point that PST makes is that there were and are vibrant artistic clusters all over Southern California from the O.C. to Wilmington to East L.A. and downtown — they just haven’t always been relentlessly hyped and commercialized like some communities in Greenwich Village and SoHo and Williamsburg that I know. Update: Also, as a friend just pointed out to me: Who the hell is spending $6000 a month to rent studio space in Brooklyn?

8.) Then cut to line about how sunshine makes everyone uninterested in culture.
“And there are obstacles that come with living in this part of the country: Curators talk about the difficulty of encouraging people to walk indoors for anything but a movie in a city that has glorious weather so many months of the year.” Because all anyone does in SoCal is sunbathe and do sit-ups. Would love to know who these “curators” are.

9.) Season with more Deitch.
Who is described as the director of the “Los Angeles Modern.” That just made me snort-laugh.

10.) And with that we’re pretty much over and out.
No real references to art or movements or discoveries… Just a quote by James Cuno of the Getty, who is required to address the whole East Coast/West Coast thing AGAIN. Zzzzzzzz. Thud.


  1. Henry

    Museum attendance figures mean very little. They only reflect popularity — not curatorial / exhibition savviness or challenge. In a tourist-driven destination like New York City, visiting museums is a fairly standard thing to do on the roster of “things tourists do,” regardless of what’s being shown.

  2. Chris Baron

    A fantastic and accurate critique of Nagourny’s pathetic, shallow, and totally inaccurate piece. THANK YOU C-Monster!!

  3. Bert Green

    Thanks for this. What I have always found ironic and amusing about the “Los Angeles as superficial” trope is how superficial a criticism that is.

  4. Quas

    Isn’t Nagourney the chief political reporter or something? Wonder why he got this assignment. It does explain, tho’, how he might not know that his salient observations are all cliches. That does happen!

  5. drdean

    i’m with PK on this one. the reason attendance at LA museums pales in comparison to NYC is that the artwork likewise pales in comparison. and going to gallery openings in LA is by and large pathetic, people milling around doing anything but looking at the artwork, which is often worse than pathetic. i attended Columbia University mainly as an excuse to partake of NYC’s cultural offerings, then spent another 4 years there for medical school. have been in LA for 13 years now and the fact is LA can’t hold a candle to NYC when it comes to serious culture. the truth hurts.

  6. Mat Gleason

    Were someone to hold the New York art world up to as harsh an examination, that rat-infested trustfund in the permafrost would curate itself a decade-long navel-gazing pity party to salve the wounds.

  7. c-monster

    My issue with the NYT story isn’t whether NYC has a better art scene than L.A. NYC clearly has the bigger museums and the bigger commercial gallery scene. My issue is that the NY/LA storyline is trite and, at this point, reveals nothing new. Nagourney could have done a story that discussed what PST has revealed about the culture of Southern California, about what it reveals about the American condition, about what it has meant to produce work in a geographically diffuse space that has no true center. Instead we get more “LA is not as big as NYC.” Well, duh…

    I also think that to evaluate an arts scene by the presence of commercial galleries or museum attendance numbers is mistaken. I’ve seen a lot of crap in commercial galleries (in NYC and elsewhere). And I’ve seen crap — and I mean CRAP — shows in fancy-pants New York museums. The fact that a lot of people see them, doesn’t make them interesting. By that logic, People magazine is interesting because a lot of people read it. The presence of a large commercial gallery scene only tells us what a minority of people (the 1%?) are interested in selling and buying. And museum attendance numbers only tell us that a lot of people saw a particular show. It can’t evaluate whether the show was interesting or important or had something new to say — merely that a lot of people cruised through the gallery. In addition, what these figures don’t evaluate are the overlooked pockets of culture and geography that produce interesting art/literature/architecture — often times in underground, out of the way spots that require a little work to get to. Sometimes they remain unknown for years or decades. Case in point: Asco from East L.A. (now on view at LACMA). Or the myriad African-American artists from South L.A. (see the Hammer) who simply weren’t included in the cultural institutions of the era because of the color of their skin.

    Moreover, if there’s something I’ve spent a lot of time chronicling on this blog, it’s vernacular culture, which can often be as or more interesting than the stuff that piques the interest of a handful of curators and wealthy buyers. Manifestations of culture aren’t limited to museums. And they sure as shit aren’t limited to galleries. Humans find myriad ways to express themselves. And if you’re hungry for it, you’ll seek it out and find it.

    Ultimately, this is why the whose-is-bigger-debate is totally boring. It’s irrelevant. Interesting culture is all around us. Let’s just stop, take a look and see what’s there…

  8. Marshall

    Thanks for writing this.

    Can I just say, that whenever I hear the term “art capital” used to describe, LA/NY/Berlin/London/etc…, my brain goes right to “I’m gonna think about Lisa Frank unicorns at a tea party until you stop worrying about the size of your dick.”

    Museum attendance numbers only make me even sadder. Sad that what should be the most creative of human industries is so insecure over its ability to please that it’s constantly whipping out a ruler just to reassure itself, therefore proving (to whom exactly?) that it must be capable of ensuring deeply satisfying cultural experience for the price of admission.

    Basically, can we get past this fucking infantile, genital-fetishist phase in art criticism and museum practice and onto some real shit now, please?

  9. c-monster

    warning you now that i plan on stealing this phrase at some point:

    “I’m gonna think about Lisa Frank unicorns at a tea party until you stop worrying about the size of your dick.”

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