Laguna Museum Buys Outerbridge Photo


The Laguna Art Museum has unveiled a newly acquired photograph by modernist innovator Paul Outerbridge that museum officials say represents the first step in rebuilding its collection of works by the former Laguna Beach resident.

“William Current and His First Wife,” a 1950 gelatin silver photograph of a fellow Laguna Beach photographer, was purchased with funds from Motivated Museum Members from a Dec. 11 photograph auction at Christie’s Los Angeles.

Three years ago, the Orange County Museum of Art--then merged with the Laguna Beach museum--sparked controversy by selling at auction a group of Outerbridge photographs. They had been donated by his wife to the Laguna Art Museum.


The Orange County Museum of Art made more than $1.7 million on the sale of 70 Outerbridge photographs at Christie’s New York. The photograph of Current and his wife, acquired for $2,070, was not part of the Laguna Beach museum’s original collection of 92 Outerbridge photographs and drawings. (The works not sold at auction are part of the LAM-OCMA Collection Trust.

Art experts decried the dispersal of the photographs, citing the aesthetic and historical importance of Outerbridge’s work. But museum trustees said the prints--which spanned his career--did not fit with the museum’s mission of collecting California art.

Laguna Art Museum director Bolton Colburn called the purchase “symbolic” because it is the first the museum has made independently since 1996, the year of the merger with the Orange County Museum of Art. (The Laguna Beach museum regained its independence in 1997.) The photograph will be on view through April 11.

Outerbridge, who was born in New York in 1896, first achieved international recognition in the 1920s, when he lived in Paris and his work was widely published by such magazines as Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar. Resettled in New York, he experimented with an early color process during the 1930s. In 1943, he went to Hollywood, hoping for a film career. When that attempt failed, he settled in Laguna Beach.

Though some view Outerbridge’s West Coast years as a period of retirement and insignificant impact, Colburn said, “in fact, he had a tremendous impact on local photographers, especially Current. The aesthetic Outerbridge developed in the ‘20s--his innovative use of black-and-white modernist abstraction--clearly influenced Current’s own work.”

Current’s landscape photographs were a precursor of stark 1970s-era images of suburban streets and building sites by Lewis Baltz, now an internationally known artist. Baltz has recalled cutting school as a young teen to hang out at Current’s photo shop in Laguna Beach, where the older photographer dispensed advice and suggested further reading.

“Outerbridge had a lot of impact and legacy here that nobody ever speaks about,” Colburn said.

In 2001, the Laguna museum plans an exhibition on the relationship of work by Outerbridge, Current, Baltz and local photographers such as Laurie Brown and Mark Chamberlain.