Laguna Art Museum presents three new exhibitions
Malcolm Warner is having his first crack at the Laguna Art Museum's permanent collection.
The new executive director of the museum – who's been at the helm since January – has curated the latest incarnation of the museum's permanent collection. The previous rendition was "Collecting California" in 2009, under former director Bolton Colburn.
Warner's version of Laguna's holdings is one of three new exhibitions at the Cliff Drive museum by the sea. The other two are "Timothy J. Clark," a collection of watercolors, and the continuing contemporary art series, "ex•pose," this time featuring Macha Suzuki, a Japanese American artist from Los Angeles.
Warner has done an admirable job putting select pieces from the multitudinous collection together. If you've been to the Laguna Art Museum on previous occasion, you've probably seen some of this work before. "Translation from the Maya," a 1940 oil on Celotex by Dorr Bothwell is a mainstay. "In the Garden," a circa 1922 oil on canvas by Mabel Alvarez is another favorite; and an untitled, futuristic purplish sculpture (1968) by Craig Kauffman always seems to find its way back into the galleries.
Many of the picks are natural choices – classic representations of each artist, and/or the quintessence of their respective movements. In the case of Kauffman, the Light and Space and Finish Fetish movements clearly come to mind when you look at his acrylic and lacquer on vacuum-formed Plexiglas.
It's hard not to admire Frank Cuprien's 1923 oil-on-board "The Golden Hour, Laguna Beach." Cuprien depicts a shimmering gold sunset and focuses on reflective water, yet doesn't reveal much of the coastline or the horizon. What you do see is lots of pure, gold color.
Ferdinand Deppe's oil on canvas "San Gabriel Mission" (c. 1832) is certainly historic. I found it in my "Framing America" (2002) art history text by Frances K. Pohl as an early example of California mission painting. But I'm not aware of any scientific proof that this is indeed the first oil painting completed in California, as the text panels suggest.
Warner and his staff do well with the juxtaposition and placement of the museum's contemporary offerings, which are in the main Steele Gallery, the largest gallery in the building, and an adjacent gallery. Judging by the picks in artist, genre and medium, many selections are reminiscent of and informed by the recent "Pacific Standard Time" exhibitions, which ran from October 2011 through the first third of this year.
Peter Alexander's 1966 untitled cast polyester resin cube, plus Helen Pashigan's 1981 untitled epoxy and acrylic on canvas laid down on plywood are amazing, intriguing sights, and the placement of the so-called Abstract Classicists – Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Karl Benjamin, John McLaughlin and Frederick Hammersley – together is an eye-pleasing tribute.
Warner is an experienced curator, and he has presented a fresh version of a familiar collection.
Upstairs on the second floor, the museum offers "Timothy J. Clark," a selection of 24 watercolors, plus a display of Clark's sketchbooks. A part-time resident of Capistrano Beach, Clark has been a successful painter and teacher on both coasts for decades.
He demonstrates in this show that he's a master draughtsman, and a very skilled painter. He's particularly good at lines, dimensions and figures. The paintings are well executed, particularly "The Four Graces" a 2012 watercolor on paper, and "Artist on the Hill," a 1988 watercolor on paper.
But I didn't see anything that completely blew me away. "Beachfire," a 2007 watercolor on paper came close, with its red sunset and dark hues punctuated by a small, bright spot of orange. While I admire Clark's achievements and skill, I can't say I was deeply inspired by any one single work.
In contrast, downstairs, Macha Suzuki is something of a revelation. He crafts installations that are imbued with symbolic meaning, often taken from his own itinerant life. The works – made from modest materials such as plastic and epoxy clay – are sometimes meditative, sometimes darkly humorous.
Suzuki's "Minor Threat" (2008) is a mix between hard and soft, attack and victimization. A sheep solemnly accepts the multitude of colorful arrows sticking into him.
"Death and Rebirth," a 2012 mixed media sculpture, involves a white mannequin laying on his deathbed, while plastic flowers adorn his body and vertical lines of plastic emanate like lasers from his chest toward the ceiling. It's a strangely relaxing, insightful and spiritual piece.
"Huddle" is another 2012 mixed media work that consists of young men in black huddling together, with hexagon-like boxes in place of their heads. For some reason, the scene reminded me of what certain, secret meetings at Apple or Google might look like.
Suzuki clearly has a load of talent – he's another solid pick by Laguna Art Museum curator Grace Kook-Anderson, who organizes the ex•pose series.
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