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GALLERY SHOWS JOHN LENNON’S ART

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In 1969, shortly after his marriage to Yoko Ono, John Lennon drew a series of intimate and erotic sketches that caused quite an uproar when displayed the next year in London. Eight of the 14 lithographs--collectively called the “Bag One Suite"--were deemed obscene and were confiscated by Scotland Yard. (The case was later thrown out of court.)

The next organized exhibit wasn’t until 1981, when one edition of “Bag One” was placed on a 100-city tour of America. Sure enough, at an early tour stop, in Providence, R.I., the police department closed down the show on grounds of obscenity.

So with the opening last weekend of yet another “Bag One Suite” at State Of The Arts in Laguna Beach, an obvious question arises: How much controversy has the collection stirred this time?

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“So far, none. Not a word,” said Carolyn Skenderian, who with Judy Upton owns and operates the gallery-cum-retail store.

Rather, the women explained, early reaction has tended toward pleasant surprise at the quality of the late Beatle’s drawings. “They’ve been very well-received,” Skenderian said. “It’s not a gimmicky thing--the guy’s talented. And people are impressed that (the lithographs) are actually good.”

“Many people who’ve come in,” Upton added, “didn’t know that he was an artist at all.”

The sketches, which Lennon did as a wedding gift to Ono, depict various events in his life after the Beatles broke up, including the couple’s wedding ceremony, honeymoon and “Bed-In for Peace” in Amsterdam.

The pieces range from minimal drawings (“Look at what he’s created with very few lines--you know right away who this is,” Skenderian said about the sparest sketch of Lennon and Ono) to the relatively detailed rendering of the Bed-In, with the erotic works somewhere in between.

The two most detailed erotica are not displayed--which may help account for the absence of controversy. Why the absence of the two sketches? “Well, we ran out of room as you can see,” Upton said, half-joking as she pointed to the small exhibit space. “And we thought: ‘Good excuse’ (not to show the most graphic works), so we put them in the back.”

“But if anyone is interested in buying,” Skenderian said, “we show them the entire Suite.”

Although the information posted near the exhibit--including an itemized price list--refers to 14 lithographs, no one viewing it the first day asked about the two missing prints. Not even the gentleman who inquired about buying the entire “Bag One Suite.”

These works are part of a limited edition of 300 such collections--with each drawing numbered and signed by Lennon--and carry a price tag of $42,000. (By way of comparison, Skenderian said that in 1982 two other editions sold in San Francisco for $60,000 and $75,000.) Individual lithographs can be purchased for $3,000 each, although the first five, dealing primarily with the Lennon-Ono wedding, are only available as a set.

The “Bag One Suite” will be on view from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through April 1 at State Of The Arts, 326 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. Admission is free.


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