Four years ago, while vacationing in Europe, a man in a Copenhagen train station asked me where I was traveling from.
“California,” I said.
“California!” exclaimed the man, who then broke out in a chorus of “L.A. Woman” by the Doors.
Such is the appeal of the Golden State, and by extension, the entirety of the West Coast. From the Wild West days to “Portlandia,” the western states have long held a fascination for travelers, free spirits, music lovers and artists from around the world.
Now, Novato’s acclaimed Marin Museum of Contemporary Art invites the public to regionally inspired art in the new virtual exhibit, “Left Coast.”
The exhibit includes paintings by 46 artists from across the country, juried by gallery-owner and curator Ken Harmon Hashimoto. Bay Area art lovers know Hashimoto’s San Francisco gallery space, Hashimoto Contemporary. Recently, he expanded with a second location in New York City’s Lower East Side.
For this online exhibit, Hashimoto took inspiration from newspaperman Horace Greeley, who is credited with the phrase, “Go West, young man,” in a 19th-century editorial that encouraged American Civil War veterans to take advantage of the Homestead Act and colonize the public lands in the western U.S. territories.
That statement has been used to define the excitement with which American settlers traveled to the region, and during the last 200 years, the West Coast’s allure has morphed and taken on mythological status for a multitude of reasons. Today, people continue to flock to cities from Los Angeles to Seattle to find fortune and fame, whether as Hollywood movie stars or Microsoft tech innovators.
The artistic inspirations for MarinMOCA’s “Left Coast” exhibit are as varied as the art itself. Pieces include paintings, photography and sculpture that reflect the magnetic draw of the region, with palm trees, avocados and In-n-Out Burger signs all featured as subjects. At the same time, many pieces in the online exhibit capture contemporary troubles, with works that directly address topics like the North Bay’s 2017 Tubbs and 2019 Kincade fires as well as homelessness and pollution.
“This exhibition explores the appeal of the West Coast through the optics of contemporary art,” Hashimoto says, in a statement. “From painting to drawing to photography to sculpture, the Left Coast has inspired as many artistic mediums and styles as it has historic movements and migrations. It is my hope that this exhibition will inspire viewers, as much as the Best Coast has inspired the many artists, poets, filmmakers, farmers, miners and workers throughout history.”
While the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato remains closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the “Left Coast” exhibit is available to view online now, and a virtual “walk and talk” video featuring the art in the gallery will be available online in mid-June.