Last evening I attended a preview of the Skateboard: Evolution & Art in California exhibition being held at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica, California. The show doesn't formally open until this Saturday, November 14th, but this was one of those fancy VIP affairs with special guests, complimentary drinks and appetizers served on skateboards, and, best of all, free parking—something virtually unheard of in the district of Santa Monica. Did all those dastardly Nazis that escaped during World War II really hoof it down to South America to live out the rest of their criminal lives in anonymity? No, I'm fairly certain they all found upscale, beachy refuge in Santa Monica and took key positions in the community's Department of City Planning Parking Enforcement division.
Guest-curated by Nathan Pratt, with an advisory committee including Tony Alva, Cris Dawson, Skip Engblom, Ray Flores, Jeff Ho, Stacy Peralta, C.R. Stecyk III, Curt Stevenson, and Dale Smith, the exhibition traces the earliest roots of skateboarding from archaic homemade skates and scooters up through the ensuing decades of industry booms and busts, each represented by their respective product innovations and graphic progression. Hence the whole "evolution" title.
The museum itself is a little odd in that it's really an old house—a really, really old house—and when you first walk in you are not greeted by wall-to-wall vintage skateboards but a vintage living room display. This, I assume, is a permanent installation. Ignore it. Take a quick right, though, because there is one small room downstairs dedicated to the primeval world of skating with its crazy and questionably "missing link" skate-like products and large photographic blow-ups of those weird little kids from the '50s that despite being 7-years-old look like they're middle-aged adults. Strange decade.
The bulk of the skateboard display—consisting of over 275 boards—is located upstairs. A great deal of attention and emphasis is placed on the vintage '60s planks with fleshed-out displays for Makaha, Hobie, Nash, and other department store brands of the time. The '70s are equally well represented with—but certainly not limited to—the requisite wall of Dogtowns, associated Z-memorabilia, and a special room carved out to feature surfboards by Jeff Ho and related photos from the glory days of the former Zephyr shop. This is, after all, ground f'ing zero for everything Z.
The selection of boards from the '80s and '90s is where the exhibit starts to get a bit more higgledy-piggledy in nature and, occasionally, garage-like in quality (aside from a nice, cohesive chunk on loan from Marc McKee and a few other notables that came out of the Rip City Skates and Skatelab collections). Granted, I am a bit jaded when it comes to seeing material from these eras, but I can also imagine how difficult it would be to try and assemble a show featuring all NOS boards befitting of a museum-like setting, e.g. a truly cream-of-the-crop selection. Especially so since this show is slated to run all the way up until May 30, 2010*. That's pretty much the equivalent to shipping your kids away to boarding school, and for some collectors I know they'd sooner do that than part with their boards for any length of time. Mainly, I'm just embarrassed that my all-time worst board graphic is woefully displayed in this section of the exhibit, the Great Powell-Peralta "Toe Knee Hawk" Debacle of 1990, and I distinctly remember slinking out of the room after spying it on the wall. Normally I don't resort to such Interweb-speak or its abbreviated ilk, but I feel it's warranted at present: FML.
The California Heritage Museum is located at 2612 Main Street in Santa Monica, California, and open to the public Wednesday–Sunday 11:00am–4:00pm. Admission prices: $8.00 (general); $5.00 (seniors and students); children under the age of 12 are free.
* Special events, screenings, talks, and autograph sessions are currently being planned to take place throughout the duration of the exhibit.