Airport gives hidden art treasures a higher profile

For those who come to Orange County looking to bask in the art scene, consider this a free appetizer.

In February, John Wayne Airport unveiled its new exhibition, “Hidden Treasures,” a collection of artworks from the collections of colleges and universities around the region.

The pieces appear in the Vi Smith Concourse Gallery in the Thomas F. Riley Terminal, meaning that they’re only accessible to those boarding or stepping off a plane.

In some cases, Chris Hoff solicited works by world-renowned artists. Other times he aimed to show off the county’s homegrown talent.

“It would be easy to parade a bunch of internationally known names,” Hoff said. “But I wanted to balance it with some people who had a history in Orange County as well.”

Hoff, a licensed marriage and family therapist, got the idea for “Hidden Treasures” several years ago when a friend who worked at Chapman University invited him to look at the campus’ Phyllis & Ross Escalette Permanent Collection of Art.

Hoff, who launched the Hoff Foundation in 2008 to provide monetary support to artists, was struck by the artworks’ quality but surmised that few outside the Chapman community are likely to have seen them.

In 2010, Hoff proposed the idea for “Hidden Treasures” to the John Wayne Airport staff. Since the airport books shows years in advance, it took until this year for it to come to fruition. In the end, five institutions — Chapman, Cal State Fullerton, Fullerton College, Laguna College of Art + Design and UC Irvine — contributed works to the exhibition.

Airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge, who wrote in an email that “Hidden Treasuers” is scheduled to remain on view through mid-August, compared the exhibit to “an unexpected trip to a museum” for travelers.

Steve MacLeod, the public services librarian of UCI’s Special Collections and Archives, provided a pair of 1960s photographic books by Ed Ruscha, “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” and “Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles.” LCAD contributed pieces from the last five years by faculty members Luc Desmarchelier, Jeff Peters and James Galindo.

Natalie Lawler, the assistant collections registrar at Chapman and preparator for the Escalette collection, teamed with Hoff to select 15 pieces for the show. Two of the works, like UCI’s, date back to the 1960s: John Paul Jones’ lithograph “Young Girl” and Roy Lichtenstein’s serigraph “Modern Argonaut with Horse.”

The works, Lawler said, are far from hidden treasures at Chapman, where they occupy prominent exhibit spaces. Still, she relished the added exposure at John Wayne.

“I don’t know if it will be a wider audience per se, but it will bring more people who were probably not aware of what we had,” she said. “That’s what we’re hoping, anyway.”