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Laguna Art Museum executive director Malcolm Warner to retire at end of year

Malcolm Warner,
Malcolm Warner, seen standing with “The Old Post Office” by Joseph Kleitsch, will retire as executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, a role he has served in since 2012.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

After nine years as the executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, Malcolm Warner has announced his plan to retire at the end of the year.

Warner has served in the role since 2012, bringing a focus on public education for both children and adults. He said that museum staff have helped to bridge the gap of understanding between artists and the public.

“With art education in schools in decline, it’s all the more important that museums introduce children to the life-enhancing joys of art,” Warner said.

Laguna Art Museum has been dedicated to exhibiting California art of various periods and styles during Warner’s time, most recently showcasing the landscape artwork of Granville Redmond.

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved the purchase of a HeloPod dip tank and provided additional direction to city staff to find a viable location for another. The HeloPod dip tank is a transportable helicopter refilling tank system that will aid in fighting future wildfires.

Warner curated a number of exhibits himself, including Artemio Sepúlveda this year and “California Printmakers, 1950-2000" in 2015.

During Warner’s tenure, the lower-level galleries also received a facelift. Warner said the renovation “turned a rather dingy basement-like space into one that does full justice to the art we show there.”

Warner, 67, did not rule out taking on some curatorial projects in a freelance capacity following his departure, but his primary focus will go towards a passion project of his own.

“While I still have most of my marbles, I want to finish a scholarly project that I’ve been working on for many years but have been unable to bring to completion at the same [time] as doing a full-time job,” said Warner, who earned his doctoral degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.

“The subject of my doctoral dissertation was John Everett Millais, the British Pre-Raphaelite artist, and I’m compiling a catalogue raisonné of his works; in other words, a compendious reference book that documents everything he did, painting by painting, drawing by drawing,” he said.

Under the leadership of Warner, the museum has seen its annual budget grow from about $1.5 million to $3 million.

The annual Art & Nature festival debuted at the museum in the year after Warner’s arrival. He said he holds it dear because it recognizes Laguna Beach’s history as a city of art, appreciation of nature, and environmental awareness.

Speaking to the main components of Art & Nature, Warner said the event, which began in 2013, offers a specially commissioned large-scale work of art, a keynote lecture by a distinguished speaker and a family festival.

“More than we ever expected, to be honest, they have become cherished popular happenings with the Laguna Beach community,” Warner said.

South Coast Repertory joined more than 100 theatres across the nation in partnering with Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s national radio play, “It Can’t Happen Here.” The play premiered on YouTube for free Tuesday night and will be available for listening until Nov. 8.

Warner previously held the post of deputy director at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. He also served as the senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art and as curator of European art at the San Diego Museum of Art.

The eighth annual Art & Nature festival will take place from Nov. 5-15. The Laguna Art Museum collaborated with the city to commission Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics for a site-specific multi-colored kinetic installation, called a Skynet.

Museum spokesman Cody Lee said that Shearn’s “Sunset Trace” installation will be located off Main Beach over Main Beach Park, waving in the wind among palm trees along the shoreline.

The museum will also open the “Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns” exhibit in December before Warner retires at the end of the month.

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