As the summer art season in Laguna Beach verges on hitting full steam, Orange County’s oldest art museum has just opened three new exhibitions and has extended another one.
On June 16, Laguna Art Museum opened “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art: Prints by John Baldessari” and “Sculptures by Gwynn Murrill.” The museum also opened a gallery of sculptures from its permanent collection and extended “Self Help Graphics, 1983-1991,” which was originally scheduled to close May 20, through Sept. 22.
“I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” takes its name from a lithograph by Baldessari, an extremely influential contemporary artist and teacher who has been at the forefront of West Coast conceptual art for decades. The 1971 lithograph was his first venture into printmaking after years of working as a painter.
The prints come from the collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation. Based in Portland, Oregon, Schnitzer is president of Harsch Investment Properties, a privately owned real estate investment company in Portland. His collection of contemporary prints and multiples is one of the largest in the country.
Baldessari “is one of the most important artists of our time,” Schnitzer said in an interview. “The ideas that come to him at first blush seem crazy, but he makes these works that are brilliant.
“I’m a steward of the work and a facilitator. For me, it’s all about the art and the audience. There’s great fun in buying the art, but great joy in sharing the art as well.”
Elizabeth Rooklidge, an independent curator who once worked as an assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, served as guest curator for Laguna’s Baldessari and Murrill exhibitions.
“John Baldessari is a giant in the field,” she said. “He changed the way we think about art. Using found imagery taken from popular culture and cropping, combining and taking images out of context, he asks the fundamental question — what is art? And what makes art good, and what gives it artistic value?”
The exhibition features more than 70 works on paper made between 1971 and 2017. Many are photograph and collage-based, with tints, lines, circles and other geometric objects added for postmodern effect.
“Eight Colorful Inside Jobs” (2017) is a Mixografia print made on handmade paper. Mixografia is a printmaking technique that allows the viewer to see brushstrokes. Images also rise off the surface to make a subject look three-dimensional.
Other highlights include “Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts),” made in 1973; “Six Colorful Gags (Male)” (1991); “Object (with Flaw)” (1988); “Brain/Cloud (With Seascape and Palm Tree)” (2009); and “The First $100,000 I Ever Made” (2012), a reproduction of a rare $100,000 bill with President Woodrow Wilson’s face on it.
Rooklidge, who grew up in Laguna Beach, says Baldessari’s use of images is particularly resonant now, with the prevalance of Instagram, Facebook and other social media. His work allows us to take a step back and adopt some perspective on all of it.
“We’re in this age where images are bombarding us more and more every day,” she said. “They’re just proliferating exponentially. I think that the work is just as relevant, if not more relevant for today.”
Spotlighting an “under-recognized” sculptor
Downstairs in Laguna Art Museum’s Segerstrom Family Gallery, “Sculptures by Gwynn Murrill” features about 20 works made by the Los Angeles-based artist from the early 1970s to today. It’s the first exhibition to present works from her entire career.
Born and raised in Southern California, Murrill was fascinated with the California landscape, “particularly the animal life where she lived,” Rooklidge said.
Thus, she focused on animals, including coyotes, deer, hawks, cats and dogs. These sculptures are on display in her solo show, along with some human figures.
Inspired by ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese figures, Murrill takes a minimalist approach, “using animal forms but reducing them to their basic elements.”
“They’re smooth, very elegant forms, but in a way that really communicates that these animals are alive,” Rooklidge said. “The hawk is about to fly off its branch, or the coyote is about to start running.”
When Murrill was an art student at UCLA, none of the professors she had were working with wood. Since she did not encounter anyone who could teach her proper techniques, she developed her own.
“It allowed her to explore the material on her own and come up with somewhat idiosyncratic ways of working,” Rooklidge said.
The artist had a hand in the organization of this show, so it appears as if some of the sculptures are interacting or communicating with each other, Rooklidge said.
Before this exhibition was announced, Laguna Art Museum already acquired one of her sculptures, “Hawk IV” (1993/1997). It’s on view in the ground-floor California gallery, along with other sculptures from the permanent collection. It’s more than 15 feet tall, so it wouldn’t have fit in the basement gallery anyway.
Emerging out of an East L.A. printmaking workshop and arts center
Upstairs on the second floor gallery, the museum is showcasing selections from its large Self-Help Graphics collection, acquired by then-curator of collections Bolton Colburn, who would later become director of the museum, a post he held for 15 years.
In 1992, the museum acquired 170 prints by 90 artists from Self-Help Graphics, an East L.A. printmaking workshop and arts center that emerged from the Chicano movement of the 1960s. It was founded by Sister Karen Boccalero.
“Self-Help Graphics, 1983-1991” features 16 works by well-known and then-emerging Chicano and Chicana artists such as Glenna Boltuch Avila, Yreina Cervántez, Ricardo Gonsalves, Delilah Montoya, Gilbert “Magu” Luján, Frank Romero and Patssi Valdez.
The exhibit was curated by Malcolm Warner, the museum’s director since 2012.
“Sometimes I do some curating,” Warner said. “I wanted to get to know that collection a little better by looking through it. Maybe we haven’t exposed it as much as we should.”
“Self-Help Graphics” includes several bright and exuberant prints, many showcasing the customs and celebrations in Mexican American culture. A number of the same artists are featured in “Papel Chicano Dos,” an exhibition of works on paper from the collection of actor Cheech Marin on view through July 14 at Muzeo in Anaheim.
Laguna Art Museum hasn’t hired a full-time curator of contemporary art since Grace Kook-Anderson’s departure in January 2015. The museum has relied on guest and independent curators and will do so for the foreseeable future.
“I’m pretty happy with the results we’ve had from bringing in different curators to work on different projects,” Warner said.
Those projects have included a comprehensive and well-regarded Tony DeLap retrospective from February to May 2018. That show was curated by art critic and curator Peter Frank.
DeLap died in May at age 91.
IF YOU GO
What: “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art: Prints by John Baldessari,” “Sculptures by Gwynn Murrill” and “Self-Help Graphics, 1983-1991”
Where: Laguna Art Muszeum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays through Saturdays, closed Wednesdays, open until 9 p.m. Thursdays, through Sept. 22
Cost: $7 general, $5 seniors and students, free for visitors 17 and younger
Information: (949) 494-8971 or lagunaartmuseum.org
Richard Chang is a contributor to TimesOC. Follow him on Twitter at @Ricardo77.