<i> Cathy Curtis covers art for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

Worst art museum in Orange County? The Modern Museum of Art easily takes the honors. Somehow, it keeps lurching along, without a single staff person trained in art and qualified to curate exhibits.

Worst single major event in recent county art and architecture history? Newport Harbor Art Museum’s trustees’ firing of world-renowned, award-winning yet ever eager-to-please architect Renzo Piano, who had designed an understated, high-tech structure for the museum’s $50-million new home.

Worst track record by a visual arts group board of trustees? How about the Fullerton Art Center board, which removed a nude photograph of John Lennon from a show last year and has long imposed its narrowly conservative view on the exhibition program?

Most timid and tedious approach to setting up a public art program? That would be the long and winding road that officially began in 1987 in the planned community that loves to plan: Irvine. Who can keep track of all the committees? Who can bear the boredom of four years of planning conferences? Who can take seriously the bland and undistinguished sculptures plopped hither and thither by Art Spaces Irvine?


Worst developer-chosen public art? Oh boy, another wide-open field (how about all the outdoor percent-for-art pieces in Brea?), but this dart is for the campy, hysterically incongruous pseudo-Mediterranean sculptures at the corner of Campus Drive and Jamboree Boulevard in Irvine--testaments to the widespread hope in these parts that our own lack of “culture” can be redeemed by borrowing somebody else’s.

So have the bad and the ugly entirely driven out the good in Orange County art? Happily, no.

Newport Harbor Art Museum’s first-rate programming has given the institution a strong profile on the national museum scene.

The private-public partnership developing Koll Anaheim--a $200-million mixed-use commercial project in downtown Anaheim--has started off promisingly, with dependence on both art expertise and community input, a wide-ranging definition of public art and a determination to work with innovative young artists.


And, despite an uneven exhibition record, the vast and well-appointed Security Pacific Gallery in Costa Mesa is a shining example of corporate vigor in the arts.