John Altoon is the first major retrospective devoted to this little-known yet important artist whose brief but significant career unfolded in southern California from the 1950s until his untimely death in 1969 at age 43. The exhibition includes approximately 70 paintings and drawings from public and private collections across the United States.
Trained as a commercial illustrator as well as a fine artist, Altoon developed both an abstract vocabulary influenced by Abstract Expressionism and a figurative style (often erotically charged and with socio-political content) that reflected his commercial background. He also developed a hybrid style combining abstraction with figuration. A post-modernist before his time, Altoon had a facility with line, color, and subject matter that resonated with his peers and continues to resonate with artists today.
This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University. The exhibition was supported in part by the Fellows of Contemporary Art and the Kimmel Family. Additional support was provided by the Clinton Hill/Allen Tran Foundation.
Image: John Altoon, Untitled, 1964, from the Hyperion Series, pastel and ink on illustration board, 56 × 40 inches, Dr. David and Arline Edelbaum. © 2014 Estate of John Altoon, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA.
I am at LACMA on a Wednesday drinking Earl Grey tea and eating a fistful of sugar cookies; the museum is closed. I watch the gardeners prune the large palm trees in front of BCAM; palm fronds scatter across the sidewalk. I’m here for a study day and walk-through of the John Altoon exhibition with other artists…
“OMG, it looks so 1960s!” That has been the response of any number of people when they first see John Altoon’s Untitled (Paris: Dior Evenings), c. 1962–63, currently on view in a retrospective of the artist’s work at LACMA…