The Crowd: 'Bad Dog,' but a good evening

The Orange County Museum of Art is creating international buzz over its impressive February unveiling of the exhibition "Richard Jackson: Ain't Painting a Pain." Curated with passion by OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs, the Jackson retrospective is the first such project at the Newport Beach museum to feature a living artist devoting the entire museum space to the show.

And what a show it is. Arriving at the Fashion Island museum, the curious and faithful are welcomed by the artist's latest gigantic installation that he simply and aptly names "Bad Dog." Completed in 2013, the 28-foot-tall, 32-foot-long black doggy is poised with its right rear leg raised as if to mark the side of the museum building, which has been sprayed with the artist's paint to complete the effect. Images of "Bad Dog" have been broadcast on both local and national news services. "Bad Dog" has indeed put OCMA on the contemporary art intelligentsia radar more than perhaps any other effort in recent years.

On Friday evening, Feb. 15, two days before the official public opening of the exhibit, Szakacs and staff threw a little dinner party for the loyalists that was every bit as chic as chic can be. Simple, surprising and anything but subtle, the crowd dressed in obligatory museum-opening black converged on the space for cocktail conversation and toured the radical exhibition of 65 Jackson works reflecting a lifetime of creativity by the Sacramento-born son (1939) who first found his stride in the 1960s Los Angeles contemporary art scene. Many of his pieces have never been exhibited; others have not been seen in public for decades. The OCMA show runs through May 5, and then it goes to Europe to the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich, followed by the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art (S.M.A.K.) in Ghent, Belgium.

Museum staff escorted the opening-night crowd through 11 room-scale installations, including a most impressive exhibit titled "5050 Stacked Paintings, 1980-2013." A room is filled with stacked canvases measuring 30 feet long by 15 feet deep and 10 feet high, all dripping with colored paint on the edges.

Examining the work were OCMA trustee Anton Segerstrom and his charming wife Jennifer. Fellow trustee emeritus Joan Riach Gaynor and husband Wally Gaynor joined friends Ramona Bernamont Morrissey and Tom Morrissey examining Jackson's drawings and plans, many of which were scientific in feeling, expressing a connection to architectural and engineering sensibility.

The stunning Jennifer Van Bergh, also an OCMA trustee and serious student of contemporary art, shared opening night with beau Tom Box and fellow museum supporters Laurén Chalmers and David Kordansky, major donors including Lenore and Bernard Greenberg, Corona del Mar's swank couple Valaree and Robert Wahler, artists Larry Bell and Mindy Shapero and exhibition lenders Don and Mera Rubell.

Director Szakacs addressed the dinner crowd, who came together under a handsome white tent erected over the museum courtyard for an 8 o'clock supper. Artist Jackson, attired in rumpled khaki trousers and a loose-fitting jacket, was humbled, circumspect yet just sarcastic enough to delight his audience. Bravo, OCMA. Kudos, Szakacs. This one puts you on the map.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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