Arts Year in Review: Laguna gets serious

2013 will go down as a dark and dismal year in the history of Laguna Beach. It was the year Laguna couldn't make fun of itself.

As always, Orange County's most arts-heavy community offered plenty of excitement in the past 12 months. But one ingredient was conspicuously missing amid all the merriment: Lagunatics, the annual song-and-sketch revue in which local residents, including some politicians, gather to skewer goings-on around town.

The 21st annual show, titled "Gagtime," was scheduled to run at the Forum Theater in October until a mold problem delayed production. Now, the Lagunatics team plans to put it on in January, which means residents will have to wait a few more weeks for parodies of the Village Entrance controversy, the Laguna Art Museum, local schools — and, most likely, the mold problem too.

But even with that production in limbo, Laguna still had a rich year on the arts scene. Here were some of the highlights for 2013:

'The Artist' lives on: A couple years ago, silent movies were all the rage as "The Artist" won Best Picture and Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" paid tribute to film pioneers. This summer, the Pageant of the Masters took a similar tack with "The Big Picture," which centered on movie-related images and offered a hefty dose of silent classics: Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and even a reenactment of the 1878 experimental photo sequence "Horse in Motion."

I do like it, Sam-I-Am: Dr. Seuss had a stellar year in Laguna, as the late children's author got spotlighted in a pair of exhibits. In May, the Fingerhut Gallery hosted "Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!", which featured items from the real-life Theodor Seuss Geisel's art and hat collections. Currently, Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow is presenting "Straight Outta Whoville: The Night Before Grinchmas," with 30 artists doing twists on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

Plenty of 'Memories': Wayne Thiebaud, the National Medal of Arts winner whom the Los Angeles Times once dubbed "the dean of California painters," donated a small collection of works to the Laguna Art Museum in October and won the museum's second annual California Art Award. Two months later, officials announced that Thiebaud is at work on a career retrospective show, "American Memories: Drawings, Paintings, and Prints by Wayne Thiebaud," which will open at the museum in February.

Ansel Adams, cutup: When Alan Ross, longtime assistant of photographer Ansel Adams, exhibited his work at the Forest and Ocean Gallery in November, he included a series of notes his boss wrote to him about leaving the battery-powered digital thermometer on in the dark room. One read, "Naughty boy!!!!!! You didn't turn the [expletive] thermometer off!!!!", while another proved that Ross was damned even if he did: "Dear Alan, I am peeved!! Disappointed, discouraged!!!! You did NOT forget to turn off the thermometer and I have nothing to gripe about! What is life without a gripe? Desolate, flat, etc. ..."

(Un)dressed for success: Laguna residents Kira Pandukht and Polina Hryn created the year's most, well, eye-catching new show with "The Artful Undress," an online TradioV production centered on the theme of nudity. The program, which debuted in August, brings on poets, musicians, visual artists and others to talk about nakedness from a cultural and philosophical perspective. Quoth Pandukht in the first episode: "We want to provoke you. Every episode, we want to provoke you to feel something as our listener." Done!

Don't shoot him, he's only the artist: Bernie Taupin, famous as the lyricist for many of Elton John's classics, showed another side of his talent with "Beyond Words," a February exhibit at the Coast Gallery. As it turns out, John is one of his patrons too: The singer bought the painting "Winter Rain" shortly before the exhibit arrived in Laguna.

Val wants your thoughts: It's exciting enough to have Val Kilmer come to town for a one-man show. But it's even more special to have him solicit feedback about his performance. In November, the venerable film actor workshopped his Mark Twain play "Citizen Twain" at the Laguna Playhouse and asked the audience to weigh in afterward. If he picks up a Tony a few years from now, he may have a few Lagunans to thank.

Man or Gumby?: Of all the new exhibitors at this summer's Sawdust Art Festival, perhaps the most memorable was Deborah Paswaters, who painted live people at her booth by the front entrance. This reporter submitted to her brush and tried to keep a straight face as a father and daughter debated whether he was real or a statue. "No, honey," the father insisted. "It's a giant clay figure that just looks like a man."

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