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Laguna Art Museum explores how 'Art & Nature' interact

A lone, lit street lamp balanced in the middle of the ocean like a strange, surreal buoy.

This solar-powered art installation, titled “Seascape,” to be created by Mexican artist Pablo Vargas Lugo, may be the highest profile piece in Laguna Art Museum’s upcoming program, “Art & Nature.”

But the lamp — which will operate day and night — won’t be the only thing worth checking out during the museum’s fifth annual celebration of art and the natural world.

Running Nov. 2 to 5, “Art & Nature” will also feature concurrent Latin American and Latino-themed exhibitions inside the museum, as part of the Getty’s extensive “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative.

The event will feature a keynote lecture by William Deverell, a respected historian of California and the American West; a free family festival on Nov. 5; and collaborations with local galleries to celebrate the intersections between nature and art.

Malcolm Warner, the director of Laguna Art Museum, says his institution is uniquely situated to present such a program.

“Laguna Art Museum grew out of the Laguna Art Association, which was founded by landscape painters,” Warner said. “The artists came to Laguna Beach for obvious reasons, because of the beautiful scenery. There’s a long tradition of artists here being inspired by nature. There’s a thriving community of landscape painters around here.”

At the same time, the museum wants to bring 21st century sensibilities and issues surrounding art and nature into the galleries as well.

“I really believe that environmental concerns are now inspiring more artists than ever to engage with nature in more interesting and varied ways than ever,” Warner said. “The other thing for us — it’s a very healthy and exciting thing for the museum to get outside of its own walls.”

Since its start in 2013, the “Art & Nature” program has inspired the museum to sponsor forward-thinking art — from performance to installation — and to extend outside its Cliff Drive confines and venture onto the beach, the bluffs and into the Pacific Ocean.

Works by Phillip K. Smith, Lita Albuquerque and Laddie John Dill have attracted local and even some national attention.

“We’ve had great response from the Laguna Beach community each time, and I’d say it’s increasing interest from outside of Laguna Beach year by year,” Warner said.

The community of Laguna has taken notice.

In 2014, “Art & Nature” won an Art Star Award for outstanding arts collaboration. The Laguna Beach Arts Alliance presented the award to recognize Laguna Art Museum’s outreach and partnership with various community organizations.

Some highlights from this year’s “Art & Nature” program include:

• On Nov. 2, local galleries will feature nature-inspired exhibitions as part of the First Thursdays Art Walk in Laguna Beach.

• Laguna Beach High School also is reportedly working on an “Art & Nature” collaboration.

• On Nov. 3, Lugo will discuss his commissioned work, “Seascape,” at the museum. It will be on view through Dec. 2.

• On Nov. 4, curators Katherine Manthorne and Alberto Nulman Magidin will join Lugo and historian Steven Hackel to discuss “California Mexicana: Land into Landscape.” Warner will serve as moderator.

• On Nov. 4, Deverell will give the “Art & Nature” keynote lecture.

• On Nov. 5, the free family festival will include free admission and art, nature and science activities for visitors of all ages.

For keynote speaker Deverell, tying the themes of art and nature together offers something of a challenge.

“Art and nature are gargantuan topics that allow us to speak very broadly to these topics, but also zero in on issues such as landscape, the political economy of grape and citrus industries, and stories that are familiar,” said Deverell, a history professor at USC and director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

He also authored well-received book “Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past” (2004).

“Certain themes in the art may look familiar, but once you start to try to connect these various works of art, you get into arenas that are more mysterious, or lesser known,” Deverell said.

“The way that pieces of art can speak to one another across big swaths of time — stitching those things together opens up new doors, or at least windows,” Deverell said.

For more information, visit lagunaartmuseum.org/artandnature/

RICHARD CHANG is a contributor to Times Community News.

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