Just for fun, I decided to look back at my 1995 "10 Best Bets" list to see how well my hunches of a year ago panned out: Six of the exhibitions encored last week on my list of the year's best shows. Of the remaining four, three were disappointments; one show was canceled.
Not bad, as predictions go.
I consider not only the theme of the show but also, like any handicapper, the track record of the organizer.
Some institutions and individuals can be depended on to bring a fresh, thoughtful angle to most any subject, while others don't seem particularly concerned about context or creativity--or appealing to sophisticated audiences. When art institutions target shows specifically to school-age groups, their credibility as cultural beacons dims considerably.
This year's Best Bets (expanded to 13) range far afield, from ancient China to post-Communist Russia. Most showcase the work of today's artists, several offering partial or major overviews of their careers. Two of the exhibitions specifically deal with broad cultural issues of immigration; one investigates an East Coast art movement (Abstract Expressionism) that was transplanted to the West.
Looking at the broader art picture, pop culture subjects will be highlighted at several venues (this year's themes include Route 66, Deadheads and Japanese comic book art).
Continuing examinations of art in cross-cultural contexts and a heightened interest in traditional crafts--whether produced today or long ago--also are signs of the times. Curators in most institutions seem to be seeking renewed levels of accessibility and cultural rootedness to lure the reluctant or occasional viewer.
This year's calendar will be affected somewhat by the temporary closure of a couple of institutions. The Newport Harbor Art Museum goes dark for five months of renovation (June 1 to Nov. 1), and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art has nothing scheduled for the 15 weeks preceding the Sept. 7 opening of its new site in downtown Santa Ana.
Still, as usual, there will be plenty to see and shout about.
* "Documenta," Huntington Beach Art Center, Jan. 13 to March 31. A takeoff on the famous exposition in Kassel, Germany, this show proposes 23 artists to watch in Southern California, including Michelle Fierro, Seth Kaufman, Laura Parker, Liza Ryan, Leonard Seagal, Rena Small, Paul Tzanetopoulos and Jody Zellen. Organized by guest curator Bill Radawec, director of the alternative Los Angeles gallery Domestic Setting.
* "Monumental Propaganda," Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Jan. 20 to Feb. 25. Drawings, collages, photographs and texts by 113 artists (including Carl Andre, Dominique Blain, Komar & Melamid, Joseph Kosuth and Art Spiegelman) who have ideas for salvaging and transforming the remaining Socialist Realist monuments in Russia. Organized by Independent Curators Inc., New York.
* "The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism," Laguna Art Museum, Jan. 26 to April 21. The West Coast's answer to the New York School, the gestural painting of Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Frank Lobdell, Hassell Smith, Clyfford Still and others was influenced by the California landscape as well as such cultural referents as jazz, Beat literature and Asian philosophies. Guest curated by art historian Susan Landauer.
* "Ceremony of Spirit: Nature and Memory in Contemporary Latino Art," Fullerton Museum Center, Feb. 23 to March 24. The exhibition, curated by MacArthur Foundation fellow Amalia Mesa-Bains for the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, presents work by 16 artists from Central and South America and the American Southwest who explore such issues as genocide and geographic displacement by emphasizing the redemptive power of memory.
* "Memories of Overdevelopment: Philippine Diaspora in Contemporary Visual Art," UC Irvine Art Gallery, March 6 to April 13. A multimedia exhibition by Filipinos living in the U.S. and the Philippines, focusing on the impact that living far from home has had on Filipino identity.
* "Absence" (working title), Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, March 18 to April 18. Work by prominent artists who explore notions of human loss and disappearance. Organized by gallery curator Maggie Owens.
* "Michael Gonzalez / Look Busy: Selected Works 1985-1995," Huntington Beach Art Center, April 13 to June 16. A Los Angeles artist who has made fanciful work with translucent erasers, aluminum braiding wire and (most recently) the colored circles on Wonder bread wrappers. A sampler from several Southern California collections, organized by center curator Marilu Knode.
* "Fred Tomaselli: The Urge to be Transported," Huntington Beach Art Center, June 30 to Sept. 1. A survey of the idiosyncratic work of an artist who grew up in Santa Ana and was influenced by sources as diverse as Disneyland, car culture and the L.A. music scene of the '70s. Co-organized by Marilu Knode and the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco.
* "John McLaughlin: A Retrospective," Laguna Art Museum, July 19 to Oct. 6. About 50 paintings by the abstract classicist who died in 1976. A long-awaited project begun by former Laguna museum director Charles Desmarais and continued by former chief curator Susan M. Anderson, with contributions from art historians Susan Larsen of USC and Peter Selz of UC Berkeley.
* "Seeking Immortality: Chinese Tomb Sculpture From the Schloss Collection," Bowers Museum, September to March 1997 (dates to be announced). Sculptures relating to agriculture, social life, military affairs, sports and the supernatural--offering a rich picture of life in China during the Han and Tang dynasties (206 BC to AD 220). From an esteemed private collection. Organized by Janet Baker, Bowers curator of Asian art.
* "Dead on the Wall: Graphics and Culture of the Grateful Dead," Huntington Beach Art Center, Sept. 19 to Nov. 24. Memorabilia and imagery portraying the communal, nomadic aspect of Deadhead culture. Organized by education director Tyler Stallings.
* "Unbuilt Southern California," Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, mid-October to late November (dates to be announced). Models, drawings and other documentation of public art projects that were designed but never built. Curated by gallery director Richard Turner.
* "Joe Goode," Newport Harbor Art Museum, Nov. 15 to Feb. 23. A retrospective--the first in 24 years--of the Los Angeles painter whose poetic minimalism was a defining aspect of Southern California painting of the 1960s and '70s. Organized by chief curator Bruce Guenther.
Pop Culture, Now and Then
* "William Claxton's Jazz," The City of Brea Gallery, June 23 to Aug. 9. Photographs of jazz greats.
* "Dali's Mustache," The City of Brea Gallery, Aug. 25 to Oct. 18. Photographs of the popular Surrealist painter by Philippe Halsman.
* "Akira Toriyama," Huntington Beach Art Center, Sept. 19 to Nov. 24 (tentative). Work by a leading Japanese comic book artist. A project of the Japanese Assn. of Museums.
* "Return to Route 66: Photographs From the Mother Road," Fullerton Museum Center, Nov. 9 to Jan. 12. Photographs by Shellee Graham and Route 66 memorabilia.
* "A Journey Through Chinese Hell: Chinese Hell Scrolls of Taiwan," Bowers Museum, Jan. 11 to March 24.
* "Who'd a Thought It; Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking," Bowers Museum, Feb. 25 to May 12. Organized by the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum.
* "American Naive Paintings from the National Gallery of Art," Laguna Art Museum, May 3 to July 14.
* "Con Mucha Alegria: Bolivia Festival Masks and Costumes," Bowers Museum, May 31 to Aug. 18. Organized by the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum.
* "Kimonos: The Expression of Inner Harmony," Muckenthaler Cultural Center, June 29 to Aug. 4.
* "Second Annual Day of the Dead Exhibition and Celebration," Huntington Beach Art Center, Oct. 26 to Nov. 24.
* "Contemporary Weaving," Cal State Fullerton Main Art Gallery, fall. An all-woman show.
* "Love Notes: Prints From Self-Help Graphics," Huntington Beach Art Center Store, Jan. 13 to Feb. 18. Curated by Pat Gomez, special events coordinator.
* "Reflections: Contemporary African-American Art," The City of Brea Gallery, Jan. 14 to March 3. Selected by Cecil Fergerson, a former longtime curator at the Los Angeles County Museum.
* "Who's Afraid of Freedom: Korean-American Artists of California," Newport Harbor Art Museum, March 9 to May 26. Guest curated by Sarah Lee.
* "The Virgin, Frida and Me: Contemporary Chicana Artists," Saddleback College Art Gallery, Mission Viejo, March 21 to April 24.
* "Indian Humor," Fullerton Museum Center, June 22 to Aug. 16. Contemporary art by Native American artists who use humor to redefine cultural stereotypes. Organized by American Indian Contemporary Arts.
Other Contemporary Art
* "Maps, Charts & Routes," Irvine Fine Arts Center, Jan. 26 to March 10. Group show of artists who use the language of maps and charts in their work. Organized by center curator Dorrit Rawlins.
* "A Moment of Congruency: Selected Polish Art from the MOCA Collection," Cal State Fullerton West Gallery, Jan. 29 to Feb. 16. Contemporary Polish work by nine artists, from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Curator: Ewa Kirsch, MFA candidate.
* "Karl Gernot Kuehn: Photographs," Golden West College, Feb. 6 to 23.
* "Works in a Small Scale," Rancho Santiago College Art Gallery, Feb. 14 to March 20. Work by Mark Sparks, Cynthia Evans, Darlene Campbell and Terri Braunstein.
* "Interior Light," Orange Coast College Art Gallery, Feb. 22 to March 28. Paintings and photographs by Ann Marie Rousseau, artist-in-residence.
* "Project: Joe Havel," Huntington Beach Art Center, April 13 to June 16. A Texas sculptor who uses elements of men's clothing. Guest curator Peter Doroshenko.
* "Off the Wall," Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, September through mid-October. Artists who use the gallery wall as a key element in their work. Co-curated by Richard Turner and Maggie Owens.
* "Calligraphic: Between Image, Word and Gesture," Irvine Fine Art Center, Sept. 20 to Nov. 3. Work by Southern California artists whose imagery or technique recalls handwriting. Curated by Dorrit Rawlins.
Orange County Artists
* "1+1+1: Art Groups of Huntington Beach," Huntington Beach Art Center, Jan. 13 to 28, Feb. 3 to 18, and Feb. 24 to March 10. Work by the Huntington Beach Art League, Huntington Harbor Art Assn. and Huntington Beach Arts Associates.
* "The Virtues Series," Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, Feb. 5 to March 8. Large-scale sculptural work by Corona del Mar artist Susan Hornbeak-Ortiz, who interprets the notion of virtue in highly personal ways. Curated by Maggie Owens.
* "Accumulation / Creation," John Wayne Airport, Feb. 12 to April 18. Work by emerging Orange County artists, together with objects that triggered ideas for each piece. Curated by Richard Turner and Maggie Owens.
* "Visiting Duplex Planet: Stories of Seniors Made Into Graphic Books," Huntington Beach Art Center, Sept. 21 to Oct. 20. Professional comic book artists will illustrate personal narratives of residents of a senior home in Huntington Beach. Curated by Tyler Stallings.
Gemology, History and Art History
* "Theology in Color: Eastern Orthodox Iconography," Cal State Fullerton East Gallery, Jan. 29 to Feb. 16. Painted icons from 18th, 19th and 20th century Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia and the U.S. Curator: Rebecca Hernandez, MFA candidate.
* "Turquoise," Cal State Fullerton, April 14 to May 12. A faceted treatment of the semi-precious stone: its geography, history and cultural uses. Curator: MFA candidate Kathleen McKinnon.
* "Partners in Illusion: William and Alberta McCloskey," Bowers Museum, opens April 27 and remains indefinitely. Another airing of the couple's still lifes and portraits.
* "A Trip to the Movies: Georges Melies, Filmmaker and Magician," Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Aug. 24-Oct. 6. Vintage photographs by the wildly imaginative early filmmaker, active between 1899 and 1913. Organized by George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.
* "German Art in California Collections," Cal State Fullerton, Main Gallery. Opening in November. Curator: MFA candidate Ewa Kirsch.
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* Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana. (714) 567-3600.
* Cal State Fullerton Main Art Gallery, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton. (714) 773-3262.
* Chapman University, Guggenheim Gallery, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. (714) 997-6729.
* City of Brea Gallery, 1 Civic Center, Brea. (714) 990-7730.
* Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. (714) 738-6545.
* Golden West College Art Gallery, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. (714) 895-8783.
* Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach. (714) 374-1650.
* Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine. (714) 724-6880.
* John Wayne Airport (concourse), 18741 Airport Way, Costa Mesa.
* Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. (714) 494-8971.
* Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton. (714) 738-6595.
* Newport Harbor Art Museum, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. (714) 759-1122.
* Rancho Santiago College Art Gallery, 17th and Bristol streets, Santa Ana. (714) 564-5615.
* Saddleback College Art Gallery, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. (714) 582-4924.
* UC Irvine Art Gallery, Campus and Bridge roads, Irvine. (714) 824-6610.
Los Angeles Times