With a double dose of adventurous contemporary art and a heavyweight historical show, Newport Harbor Art Museum seems likely to offer the serious art viewer the year's major supply of must-see Orange County exhibitions:
"Cal Arts: Skeptical Beliefs" (Jan. 24-March 20) showcases the paintings, sculpture, video and film work of the maverick alumni of California Academy of the Arts in Valencia, a group that includes Eric Fischl, Jill Giegerich, Matt Mullican and David Salle.
"Chris Burden: A 20-Year Survey" (April 10-June 12) is a massive tribute to a pioneer in conceptual and performance art whose sometimes downright nasty work is based on strong doses of provocation, ambiguity and risk.
"The Figurative '50s: New York Figurative Expressionism" (July 15-Sept. 18) continues the museum's revelations of lesser-known aspects of the post-World War II art explosion in New York. Willem de Kooning, Grace Hartigan and Larry Rivers are among the heavy hitters.
--The Laguna Art Museum keeps its contemporary and historical art bases covered with "Larry Bell--Light on the Surface: 10 Years of Vapor Drawings" (Jan. 15-Feb. 28) and "The Early Works of Charles E. Burchfield, 1915-1921" (March 10-April 24).
Bell's drawings are an extension of the sensory-illusion legerdemain he first performed on glass cubes. Burchfield, one of the handful of American watercolorists who really matter, is best known for his landscapes.
--UC Irvine's Fine Arts Gallery starts the year with an exhibition tracing the history of photography via the remarkable holdings of the University of California. The prints in "The University Collects" (Jan. 10-Feb. 7) range from photographic "experiments" by painter Camille Corot to images of celestial phenomena taken through the Lick Observatory telescope.
"Saints and Other Angels: The Religious Paintings of Audrey Flack" (Feb. 14-March 13) will introduce Orange County viewers to the New York realist painter, whose work in this vein was strongly inspired by Latin American imagery.
--The Bowers Museum, which will be undergoing the schedule-disrupting effects of expansion later in '88, this year seems to be retreating both from the fine arts and from intensive anthropological efforts. In their place are harmless and no doubt crowd-pleasing exhibits of kimonos, dolls and "Amish Quilts From the Collection of the Museum of American Folk Art" (Jan. 22-March 13).