A Tribute to ‘One of Our Own People’

Los Angeles-based painter Helen Lundeberg can claim the rare distinction of co-founding an art movement, one that earned her a national reputation in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Yet, at 80, she’s never been given a solo exhibition by her home town’s biggest museum. Until now.

“A Birthday Salute to Helen Lundeberg,” on the occasion of the artist’s 80th year, opens Thursday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Twenty-one paintings, from ‘30s Post-Surrealism works to ‘80s abstract landscapes, will be on view through Jan. 8.

“Lundeberg is almost a cult figure in L.A.,” said Ilene Susan Fort, LACMA’s associate curator of American art. “And when someone told me her 80th birthday was coming, I thought what a nice time to do a small show to pay tribute to one of our own people while she’s still alive.”

A quiet restraint, luscious use of color and a purity of form unify many of Lundeberg’s paintings. But the exhibit represents each distinct phase of her career.


Post-Surrealism is the movement she co-founded in the mid-'30s with her husband and former teacher Lorser Feitelson.

European Surrealists of the time emphasized the unconscious, painting objects that seemed totally unrelated and accidentally arranged. Bringing a rational, classical approach to this pervasive style, Lundeberg and Feitelson also painted unrelated objects--such as a book, a table and a carved stone head--but emphasized a conscious approach, arranging objects to show connections between them.

“Lorser and I were both oriented toward what we called Classicism--structure and organization in painting,” Lundeberg said the other day. “We didn’t like the autonomy that the Surrealists advocated, and we (used) structures based on the normal mind, instead of crazy dreams and so forth.”

Practicing this style, Lundeberg explored astronomy, biology and other favorite themes. “She had planets floating through the paintings,” Fort said. “But they were very abstract, like a circle within a square for instance.” One painting in a ‘60s planet series, which has not been exhibited since that decade, is in the LACMA show.


As Lundeberg’s work progressed, it became “sparer” and populated with fewer objects, the curator continued. “One ‘40s work that’s in the exhibit shows a chair and another object or two, set in what looks like an empty interior. But it suggests a vast, desolate landscape.”

During the ‘60s, Lundeberg was classed with the geometric, hard-edge abstract artists, yet her work always retained a sense of subjectivity.

Said the artist: “What has survived of Post-Surrealism was . . . the feeling that I want not only to create a finely organized painting, but that I want to convey a feeling or an atmosphere which goes beyond the actual.”

The author/collaborators of the popular “Monet” book have recently produced “Degas” (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.: 288 pages). Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge’s new tome, with 324 illustrations, 121 are luminescent color plates, contains a formidable representation of the Impressionist’s pastels, drawings, paintings, monotypes and sculptures as well as working sketches and photographs of his corps de ballet dancer models. The book’s text includes firsthand accounts of Degas and his contemporaries as well as an expose on the artist’s life and art.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, which holds one of the world’s finest collections of illuminated manuscripts, intends to sell eight unilluminated manuscripts at a Sotheby’s auction in London on Dec. 6.

The artworks, six from the 8th to the 10th centuries and two from the 15th and 16th centuries, were acquired in 1983 as part of the Ludwig Collection of 144 manuscripts.

The museum confines its manuscript holdings to illuminated examples, said Thomas Kren, curator of manuscripts. “We feel it is only right that we should make these eight works available to other institutions or collectors who can study and enjoy them.”