Arts Year In Review: A year of culture

With Newport-Mesans in the Olympics, contentious City Council elections and those Mitt and Barack guys grabbing headlines, it was a busy year for news — and the arts proved to be no exception. We could try to order this into a conventional "top 10 stories" or some such thing, but because the arts are always playful and surprising and sometimes impossible to classify, we'll approach our year-end wrapup the same way. Here were some of the highlights of the cultural scene in 2012:

First Class Couture: The "adDRESSING Titanic" exhibit showcased women's haute couture garments, circa 1912. Brought to the Orange County satellite campus in Irvine by the Los Angeles-based Fashion Institute of Designing and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum, these high-fashion garments were debuted on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking.

"You know, if you were the cream of the crop ... you got to wear these types of garments," said FIDM's curator, Kevin Jones. "The Titanic is considered really the death knell of this kind of Edwardian, Victorian era, where there was a great deal of advancement in technology … but the human side of it had not caught up to it yet."

Featuring clothes worn by Lady Duff Gordon, a prominent survivor of the Titanic, alongside dinner gowns crafted by Beer and Doucet, two French designers from the same era, the exhibition opened with a presentation and tour led by Jones.

The Masters: Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Orange County Museum of Art, "OC Collects" showcased 85 works by 47 local and international artists and was co-curated by director Dennis Szakacs and chief curator Dan Cameron.

Cameron revealed that the show, which closes Dec. 30, highlighted the role of the private collector within the history of OCMA.

"When people think of Orange County, they don't automatically think 'art collectors,'" Cameron said. "And yet, good collectors don't just belong to this area now. They have been here for a long time. We thought this was a great opportunity to display a cross section of the different collecting approaches here while creating a space where artists, art lovers and collectors can all meet and have an exchange."

With paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and text on loan from local collectors, including Anton D. Segerstrom, Mary and Dan Solomon, and Ann and Bob Myers, the displays range from minimalism to pop art and abstract expressionism to hard-edge work. According to Cameron, guests responded favorably to headlining artists such as Andy Warhol, Roger Kuntz, Jay McCafferty, Chaz Bojorquez and others.

Simple Pleasures: Actress and singer Liza Minnelli garnered an invitation to perform alongside Orange Country's gay men's chorus MenAlive. For two days, she took the stage with MenAlive in "A Winter Spectacular" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The show, featuring the singer's own band along with the men's chorus, marked her first local appearance in nearly 20 years.

"Any time you're called an icon of anything, it's great," Minnelli said, referring to her popularity in the gay community. "And I think it's a huge part of my career. But if you go in there, you see not only gays [in the audience], you see families and all kinds of different people."

At the end of the day, Minnelli said, what keeps her coming back is a burning passion for her craft and simple joys embedded along the journey.

Wine Beyond the Vine: Huntington Beach residents Steve and Jason Berger won medals in this summer's Orange County Fair Home Wine Competition in Costa Mesa.

The father-and-son duo grow fruit trees and vines in their backyard, including citrus, avocado and tomatoes, alongside more tropical species such as bananas, pomegranates, and yellow and red dragonfruit.

Jason's sweet-tasting yellow dragonfruit wine won a bronze medal in the fruit wine category. His apple dessert wine and Gravenstein apple wine also received bronze medals among wine made at home from fruit other than grapes.

Other locals who featured prominently at the contest include David Erickson IV of Fountain Valley, who won a silver medal for his Sangiovese wine, and Phil Sblendorio of Huntington Beach, who earned three silvers — for his 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, his 2010 port and his 2011 red blend — and a bronze for his 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Politics With A Side Of Art: Occupy Orange County switched gears on the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding Citizens United.

Occupiers served a cocktail of politics, art and humor to raise awareness about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a January 2010 decision banning the government from limiting funds from independent parties, such as corporations and labor unions, for political purposes.

Part of a nationwide demonstration, the rally included live music and informative skits with song-and-dance numbers, which encouraged the audience to laugh and clap along.

"Art is a way to communicate a message," Charles Cha, dressed as General Electric, said. "And humor just makes it more palatable."

Ripple Effect: Paintings by Vietnamese refugees who escaped a war-torn homeland are exhibited at UC Irvine as part of "Hope of Freedom: Project Ngoc's Decade of Dedication."

UCI graduate student Tom Wilson established Project Ngoc in 1987 with the idea to provide relief to those waiting for asylum in detention camps in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand.

Starting out as an epidemiology course to prevent disease in the camps, Project Ngoc became a student-led organization raising awareness about the plight of all Southeast Asian refugees, which raises money to send UCI students to work as teachers, counselors and translators in the refugee camps. The students also organized local protests, vigils, art exhibits, concerts and conferences.

"When you return to the States, please exhibit these so that the rest of the world can learn about our relentless search for freedom — so that the rest of the world knows of the prison that is our lives. Do not let them forget about us," reads part of the exhibit, which features paintings on recycled cardboard signs, the back of completed works and even other paintings — the only surfaces available to these refugees — which were brought back to the U.S. and showcased at UCI.;

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB; @RMahbubani

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