Edward Biberman's New-Deal mural "Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice" — a bustling, three-part tableau from 1941 that hung in the Venice Post Office until it closed in 2012 — brims with drama.
Dead center: The founder of Venice, pictured under an Italian-style archway with piercing eyes, bushy mustache and grim expression, dares anyone to defy his idyllic vision for a small, upscale resort town by the sea. Behind him, slender gondolas, circa 1905, float in canals lined with bungalows — all bathed in sunny pastels, a haze of nostalgia.
Kinney is flanked by images from the '40s. To his right, a crowded beach scene in which sailors court their dates, sun worshipers savor glistening ice cream cones and crowded amusement park rides dot the horizon; to his left, men in fitted suits huddle before a more ominous landscape of oil rigs and holding tanks.
The recently restored mural is the centerpiece of the
The Biberman mural was commissioned in the early '40s by the
"Historically, it's also very relevant," she says. "It has elements of fun, it's brightly colored, the details are quite amusing. But at the same time, Biberman, on the right side of the painting, was quite honest about the intrusion of the oil rigs and wells and how the oil industry, at that time, was ruining the beaches."
When film producer Joel Silver (
In the LACMA exhibit, the black-and-white photograph of Kinney that Biberman likely used as a model for his mural hangs nearby, alongside vintage postcards and photographs of Venice. Kinney's original architectural plans for his seaside town, as well as lively real estate brochures and concert souvenir programs, capture his hopes and entrepreneurial spirit. Collectively, the images chart an evolution from swampy marshlands. For context, a LACMA painting of Venice, Italy, by Giovanni Antonio Canal, a.k.a. Canaletto, hangs opposite Biberman's mural.
"There are all these invisible threads that go from the mural to the walls and from one wall to another," says Susan L. Power, LACMA's research assistant of American art, who co-curated the exhibit. "We wanted to open it up and make it come alive."
This Saturday, another invisible line will be drawn, this one between the exhibit and Venice's vibrant literary history. George Drury Smith, the 86-year-old founder of the literary magazine Beyond Baroque and a founding member of Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, will give a talk in the museum's Brown Auditorium about the Venice literary scene in the '60s and '70s. Poet Bill Mohr, author of "Holdouts: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992," will read his work as well as poems by Beat Generation writers and other longtime Venice scribes before a mural viewing.