SUMMER ART : COPING WITH THOSE OL’ ART SUMMER BLUES
Every day the weather forecast is the same. Cool, overcast mornings usher in endless sunny afternoons. If you drive West as late as 7 o’clock the windshield is still a sheet of blinding reflection. College campuses are as laid back as fetes champetre and working folk look wistfully at glossy magazine ads featuring blue water and green woods. What can it all mean other than that summer is once again acumin in lhude sing cuckoo.
The art crowd grows apprehensive. It knows the college galleries are packing up for furlough, many a commercial showplace will somnambulate through the season and that this--the year after the Olympic Arts Festival--is unlikely to produce the same attempts at magnificence that materialized (and sometimes fizzled) in ’84.
What to do? What to do?
As summers are blissfully similar, so is advice about how the art devotee copes with them. Probably the single most appropriate activity, art’s equivalent of picnics on the grass, are visits to permanent collections. There art many sensible reasons to pursue this line of pleasure. The most persuasive is that three-fourths of L.A.'s most prominent museums emphasize permanent collections over changing exhibitions.
The Getty, Huntington and Simon museums claim fame for what is always there (although at the Simon rarely in the same place). So go and browse, it’s cool and quiet especially if you are shrewd enough to avoid rubes and tourists trooping by the masterpieces.
You have seen the Getty Bronze. Try the museum’s decorative art collections that range from craftsmanship made classic to Baroque gone bonkers. You have seen Pinky and Blueboy. Probe the delicate charms of the Huntington’s portrait miniatures. The swath of European Old Master art in the Simon Museum is legendary. It tends to distract people from Southeast Asian galleries, which include such treasures as a dancing Nataraja said to be the best of its kind in the known world.
Well, all right, we all crave new experience, if not novelty. So what about that?
There seems to be no competition for the title of Summer Blockbuster Treasures Extravaganza. The single twinkling contender is the County Museum of Art’s “The Treasury of San Marco Venice” which will present 50 Medieval objects from the fabled Queen of the Adriatic July 3-Sept. 8.
The show--sponsored by Olivetti--arrives dripping prestige from such stops as Paris’ Grand Palais, the British Museum, London and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It includes crowns, chalices, reliquaries and the other appurtenances that marked medieval Venice as the cosmopolitan crossroads of the world, joining European elegance to the exoticism of Byzantium, Islam and the Orient. It’s the kind of encrusted art that makes us feel we’re walking around in a fairy tale. (Well-organized folks will want to know that tickets go on sale next Saturday. See Art News for details.)
Having preserved our cultural cachet with one potentially potent grandiosity, we can turn to matters less prepossessing but just as serious, such as LACMA’s presentation of the American 19th-Century landscape painter, John Frederick Kensett (July 11-Sept. 8.) The artist is hardly a household name, but he waxed prominent in recent years with the general discovery of the the Luminist school. Kensett (1816-1872) started out as a Romantic identified with the transcendentalism of the Hudson River artists. This retrospective of about 50 works will show his growth into the smooth, almost mystically detached hyper-realism of fellow Luminists like Fitz-Hugh Lane. The show may be a bit of a sleeper.
As much can be surmised about the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s revivalist look at the art of Rockwell Kent (June 28-Sept. 1). In his heyday in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Kent’s wood-engraved illustrations were among the most popular and influential in the land. But they dated badly and today his combination of prissy precision and heroic macho tends to attract appreciation mainly as a camp.
SBMA museum director Richard West thinks that image of Kent is wrong in that it ignores his contribution as a painter. As a corrective, his exhibition will present 70 pictures spanning Kent’s long life (1882-1971). Historians, prepare to revise your texts.
What is that grumbling out there in the audience? Probably the avatars of special artistic categories wanting sustenance for particular passions.
Well, champions of primitive art will be happy to be reminded of a landmark exhibition of pottery by vanished Indians of New Mexico just opened at the Southwest Museum. Titled “Mimbres Pottery; Ancient Art of the American Southwest” the survey of 100 vessels continues to July 28.
Next on the tribal agenda comes the acclaimed “Te Maori,” an epic survey of the sometimes massive carvings made by native New Zealanders. With its distinctive combinations of Polynesian muscular volumes and Oriental surface elaboration, it will turn up July 1-Dec. 1 at San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Museum.
Now the ever-intense votaries of contemporary art are growing restless. Where is the Now? Where is the Here? Where is the here now? Right where they should be, at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Temporary Contemporary facility in Little Tokyo.
Their summer show lacks MOCA’s usual cute title but not the director’s usual enthusiasm. Richard Koshalek says he is excited about nine separate simultaneous solo exhibitions probing L.A. artists working in that illusive material, “a wide variety of media.”
“We didn’t want to to do the usual survey with a couple of works each, so every artist will be seen in depth. Jo Ann Callis will have thirty-forty photographs. Guy de Cointet, who sadly died a couple of years ago, was a quiet person but very influential on artists like Larry Bell and Robert Irwin. We will re-create some of his performances. Bill Viola, who lives right here in Long Beach, has a strong reputation for his video installations but he’s never been in a museum show right here. We are excited about it.”
Of course you are, Richard.
Also on hand from June 22 to Sept. 29 will be works by Suzanne Caporael, Mary Corse, Steve Galloway, Jill Giegerich and two artists associated with the East L.A. streetscaper aesthetic, Gronk and Willie Herron.
Naturally, the more energetic commercial galleries and alternate spaces will plow right ahead introducing from the infinite queue of emerging artists.
Even as you read, the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park provides a forum for the work of Ann and George Page (to June 30). Later the Muni gives an unusual peek at certain contemporaries from Austria.
Down Orange County way the Newport Harbor Art Museum rings up the curtain on a pair of exhibitions spotlighting Post-Modernist trends. A dramatically increased interest in architecture and design will come under review July 25-Sept. 22. “The Critical Edge” examines controversial American buildings by a dozen architects ranging from Frank Gehry to Richard Meier. “Future Furniture” looks at 10 artist-designers following a spreading impulse to apply radical vision to everyday objects of house and office.
For more about ourselves, it may be necessary to take some side trips, which nobody minds. “Bay Area Art, 1945-1980" is not likely to lay an egg at the Oakland Museum every day until Aug. 18, nor is sculptor Robert Hudson a predictable dud in his survey due at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 27-Aug. 9), but even if they were, it’s so pretty by the Bay we’d forgive them.
San Diego, reputedly less cosmopolitan than the north, plans a couple of exhibitions threatening to make San Francisco seem momentarily provincial. The San Diego Museum of Art swears that 166 works in “Fortissimo” will reveal an encyclopedic overview of contemporary art (June 29-Aug. 11) even though it all comes from a single private collection, that of Richard Brown Baker of Rhode Island.
For sheer urbane aesthetic refinement, the summer will find it hard to outshine a retrospective of New York minimalist Robert Mangold at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art June 22-Aug. 4. His cool, abstract-academic paintings delight purists and enrage tourists.
There you have it. Just another summer with nothin’ to do.