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ART : Hall of Frame : Recounting the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Scenes in and Out of the Museums of Orange County in 1990

This was the year when the art news far overshadowed the art exhibits.

No single show was as powerful an indicator of the provincial state of art in Orange County as Newport Harbor Art Museum’s unconscionable dumping of architect Renzo Piano, or the numerous cries of censorship heard throughout the land--from the outcry over a nude photo at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center to the tempest in a teapot over a nude by painter Jim Morphesis, intended for a poster commemorating the John Wayne Airport expansion.

Still, there were some excellent shows and lectures, and an unusual number of well-written, stimulating exhibit catalogues. This also was the year the Laguna Art Museum came into its own under director Charles Desmarais, offering an exhibit lineup far more wide-ranging and appealing than any in recent memory.

As usual, there also were enough absurdities committed in the name of art to keep our sense of humor intact. What follows is an attempt to snag the best and worst, and to recall some of the other events great and small that could have happened Only In Orange County.

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Best Staff-Curated Museum Exhibits:

1) “Tony Cragg: Sculpture 1975-1990" at Newport Harbor Art Museum.

2) “ ‘Success Is a Job in New York . . .’: The Early Art and Business of Andy Warhol” at Newport Harbor.

3) “Buzz Spector” at Newport Harbor.

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4) “Charles Ray” at Newport Harbor.

5) “Objectives: The New Sculpture” at Newport Harbor.

6) Paul Kos’ installation “BER LIN” at the Laguna Art Museum’s South Coast Plaza Satellite.

7) “Pursuit of the Marvelous: Stanley William Hayter, Charles Howard, Gordon Onslow Ford” at the Laguna Art Museum.

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8) “Ilene Segalove: Why I Got Into TV and Other Stories” at the Laguna Art Museum.

Best “Imported” Museum Exhibits:

1) “Jay de Feo” at the Laguna Art Museum (curated by the University Art Museum, Berkeley).

2) “Sigmund Freud Antiquities: Fragments from a Buried Past” at UC Irvine (curated by Lynn Gamwell, University Art Museum, State University of New York at Binghamton, with the Freud Museum, London).

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3) “Committed to Print” at Newport Harbor (organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York).

4) “Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernism, 1920-1956" at the Laguna Art Museum (organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; curated by Susan Erlich and Barry M. Heisler).

Best Exhibition Catalogues Produced by Local Institutions:

1) “Tony Cragg: Sculpture 1975-1990.”

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2) “Objectives: The New Sculpture.”

3) “Ilene Segalove: Why I Got Into TV and Other Stories.”

4) “Pursuit of the Marvelous: Stanley William Hayter, Charles Howard, Gordon Onslow Ford.”

5) “California Light, 1900-1930,” the Laguna Art Museum.

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Best Exhibits at Nonprofit Galleries and Cultural Centers:

1) “Sigmund Freud and Art: His Personal Collection of Antiquities” at the Fine Arts Gallery, UC Irvine.

2) “Courageous Voices: An International Poster Exhibition on Racism, Sexism and Human Rights” at the Rancho Santiago College Art Gallery.

3) “Island Indonesia: Reflections of Art, Mirrors of Culture” at the Irvine Fine Art Center.

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4) “NOT Necessarily PRIME TIME TV” (video art) at the Saddleback College Art Gallery.

5) “John Paul Jones: The Man in the Mirror” at the Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach.

6) “Television: Off the Air and Behind the Screen” at the Fullerton Museum Center.

Most Improved Gallery:

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The Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman College, where Richard Turner is director, has begun to seek out “difficult” work by younger artists and to supply informative essays about the art on view.

Most Well-Meaning but Misguided Museum Exhibits:

The Bowers Museum’s attempts to mount brief exhibits of art from around the world in the months before the building closed for expansion clearly were intended to reflect the “multicultural” focus of the museum. But unless and until the museum hires a staff member or free-lance curator who is savvy about contemporary art--at present the museum has no art curator at all--such efforts seem doomed to mediocrity.

Most Provocative Exhibition That Raised the Fewest Hackles:

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Carol Caroompas’s darkly sexual reinterpretations of fairy tales at UCI’s Fine Arts Gallery.

Least Provocative Exhibition That Raised the Most Hackles:

“Heroes, Heroines, Idols & Icons,” the muddle-headed show at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center that included the Annie Leibovitz photo of John Lennon that was removed when a trustee didn’t think it was sufficiently “positive.”

Most Pointless New Exhibition Space:

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The new Irvine Medical Center gallery, which opened last fall--in the building’s cafeteria.

Most Eagerly Awaited New Exhibition Space:

The Huntington Beach Art Center--projected to open in 1991 (more likely: spring of 1992, according to director Naida Osline) already has plans for the first show in its 11,000-square-foot downtown building. “Community Properties,” guest-curated by Dan Talley, special projects director at the Forum in Jamestown, N.Y., will explore the idea of community “whether defined geographically, economically, racially, culturally or through shared beliefs.”

Best News on the Public Art Front:

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Plans for Koll Anaheim Center.

Worst News on the Public Art Front:

A public sculpture competition in Laguna Beach with a budget of only $27,000.

Most Mysterious Minor Art Fraud:

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Postcards were sent to Southern California artists last summer inviting them to send slides of their work and $12 to a Los Angeles post office box. In return, the work would be considered by the (nonexistent) Orange County Museum of Contemporary Art.

Most Unlikely Orange County Art Show Juror:

Orange County Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach) served as a juror for a “conservative art” contest sponsored by a religious talk show station (KKLA-FM) with the aim of presenting the National Endowment for the Arts with an alternative standard for good art than that of the “croissant elite.” Rohrabacher, of course, repeatedly has stressed his opposition to federal funding for the arts.

Hmmmmm. Maybe We’re Not So Parochial After All:

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Drawings for “Revival Field"--the environmental work by conceptual artist Mel Chin that was recommended for a National Endowment for the Arts grant by a review panel, approved by the NEA’s advisory council, then rejected in November by NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer--were included in “Conceptual Impulse” at the Security Pacific Gallery in Costa Mesa in June. The drawings--which have nothing to do with nudity, sex or religion--raised no ruckus whatsoever in these parts.

Exhibit Giving the Most Falsified Impression of a Noble Institution:

“British Design 1790-1990,” presented by the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the Festival of Britain at South Coast Plaza.

Biggest Confusion between Art and Commerce:

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The Festival of Britain.

Most Unfortunate Appearance of Confusion Between Art and Commerce:

An exhibition of prints by Edward Ruscha at Saddleback College Art Gallery, curated by commercial gallery dealer Mark Moore.

Biggest Sign of Confusion Between Art and Commerce:

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Well, the South Coast Plaza facade says “The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” but the lovingly illuminated objects inside are just reproductions of Famous Things, and the “museum” is actually just a West Coast outpost of the Met’s retail store.

Best Art-Related Lecture Series:

Newport Harbor’s architecture and design lecture series--organized by the Forum, a membership group at the museum--brought us such luminaries as Michael Graves, George Hargreaves, Steve Holl, April Grieman and Frank Israel this year.

10-Year Anniversaries, or, If It Lasted This Long, It Must Be Doing Something Right:

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1) Irvine Fine Art Center.

2) “Art Forum,” a free series of Monday noon lectures by artists and others, at Rancho Santiago College.

Most Deeply Missed Art World Personality:

Kevin Consey, former Newport Harbor director, who left for the directorship of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago more than a year ago.

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