David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the American art scene begins and ends in New York City. But Los Angeles is where Chris Burden reinvented performance art by having a friend shoot him in the arm. It's where Edward Kienholz birthed assemblage sculpture, John Baldessari helped forge Conceptualism, Judy Chicago gave creative voice to feminism, and Charles and Ray Eames laid the groundwork for today's design industry. Ed Ruscha and David Hockney made Southern California imagery key to the language of Pop Art, and although New Yorkers might not want to hear it, L.A. was the first place Andy Warhol exhibited his famous soup cans.

While the quality of the work coming out of the Southland lately—Ryan Trecartin's caffeinated videos, Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous graphics—is impossible to deny, "there's still this idea that before the 1980s there was no art scene in Los Angeles," says Andrew Perchuk, the deputy director of the Getty Research Institute. He's spearheading Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980, which traces the formation and influence of L.A.'s postwar art scene. When it opens next month—at the Getty and more than 50 other SoCal centers—it will be the city's biggest art extravaganza to date.

Perchuk hopes Pacific Standard Time will direct new attention to L.A. as a global art mecca. "People don't think about getting on a plane and going to see art here like they do with New York or London or Paris," he says. But there are plenty of reasons they should: New York gallerist Jeffrey Deitch arrived last year to revitalize the Museum of Contemporary Art, while philanthropist Eli Broad is bankrolling a new campus by Renzo Piano for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a building downtown by Diller Scofidio + Renfro for his own contemporary collection. Downtown is the official arts district, thanks to the studios in former toy factories and cold-storage warehouses, but farther west in tiny Culver City, dozens of galleries have opened in the past decade.

Today's work reflects the same spirit of collaboration and rejection of convention evident in Pacific Standard Time—a result of the city's dispersed geography and lack of traditional arts infrastructure. Gallery shows are rarely the goal; rather, L.A. is sprinkled with pop-ups, roaming truck exhibitions, and raucous live performances. "I'm not trying to frame it into a kind of regionalism," says Edgar Arceneaux, a native Angeleno working on a "social sculpture" near the Watts Towers. "But the artists here seem to have a particular kind of gumption for doing it themselves."

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THE FIVE MUST SEE-SHOWS

Don't miss these exhibitions at this fall's Pacific Standard Time art extravaganza

"State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970"
The rise of California Conceptualism, featuring artists ranging from Chris Burden to William Wegman.
Orange County Museum of Art, opens October 9

Eames storage unit, 1951-52, Charles and Ray Eames

"California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way"
A history of the "California look" in interior design, from the Eameses' iconic loungers to architectural pottery.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opens October 1

Diamond Column, 1978, DeWain Valentine

"Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface"
Installations by artists like James Turrell and Bruce Nauman that explore perception and the body's relationship to the external world.
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, opens September 25

"Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980"
Explores the city's often-overlooked African-American artists and their role in the civil-rights and Black Power movements.
Hammer Museum, opens October 2

Instant Mural, 1974, Asco

"Asco: Elite of The Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987"
A survey of the collective that famously tagged LACMA's exterior to protest the absence of Latino artists inside.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opens September 4