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Column: The Crowd: Art of Dining celebrates fine art in Orange County

Newport Beach residents recently gathered signatures and petitioned the City Council to stop the Museum House development project.

The City Council, in a 5-2 vote, reversed preliminary approval on the construction of the luxury high-rise condominium building rather than placing the project on a ballot as required by the petitions submitted by local citizens.

The controversial issue divided the community over matters of growth and density.

There were other issues, including the future of the Orange County Museum of Art, which is presently located in Fashion Island on land granted to the museum by developer Donald Bren and the Irvine Co.


The land was to be the sight of the Museum House project, which has now been tabled. Proceeds from the sale of the property to developers would have been used to fund construction of a new, state-of-the-art museum to be built on land set aside for the Art Museum as part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

Another underlying conflict in this entire puzzle was the desire of Bren and the Irvine Co. The donated land would remain for use as the Orange County Museum of Art and not be sold to private developers.

With all of this significant back story in mind, the Orange County Museum of Art held its 30th celebration of Art of Dining on May 20 on the Costa Mesa land earmarked eventually for the new museum.

Throughout the evening celebration, veiled comments, innuendo and double entendre referred to the lost opportunity over the sale of the Fashion Island property.


Many in the crowd expressed frustration over the political infighting in the community.

However, optimism in the black-tie dinner crowd prevailed in spite of the setback.

Over and over again, conversations shared the fact that funds would be raised over time to move forward and create a 21st century facility that Orange County citizens would be proud to call their own art museum.

Support for the museum, both present and future, is widespread and generous.

Art of Dining remains an annual gathering of the dedicated who make it known that the exhibition — study as well as the evolution of visual art — is an integral part of a civilized community.

To this end, citizens from all over Orange County and beyond who support the effort came together donating from $2,500 to more than $50,000 to raise funds to support museum programs.

The executive committee for Art of Dining 2017 was a who’s who listing of women, including Marsha Anderson, Toni Berlinger, Sally Crockett, Debra Gunn Downing, Susan Etchandy, JoAnn Fanticola, Teri Kennady, Jassel Lizardi, Twyla Reed Martin, Tracy Schroeder, Jennifer Segerstrom and Jennifer Van Bergh.

In grand tradition, Art of Dining continues to be one of the premiere events on the Orange Coast.


It began 30 seasons ago with a formal and elegant multi-course dinner held in the ballroom of the former Four Seasons Hotel, now Island Hotel at Fashion Island.

The evening featured a celebrity guest chef going to ultimate extremes to create the most fabulous dinner possible before such events became commonplace on the social calendar.

In early years, Art of Dining — which always was an expensive ticket — attracted the senior elite in the community.

It was the ticket of the year; a must-attend for the socially and culturally prominent citizens. In addition to the lavish formal dinner, the evening was built around a most distinguished special guest that over the years included some of America’s most noted artists as well as many of the leading arts patrons supporting the visual arts.

With many changes, not only in the world of contemporary art but also in the leadership of the Orange County Museum of Art, the tone of Art of Dining in recent seasons has become much less formal and more modern.

Over the last several years, organizers have abandoned the hotel ballroom concept, instead erecting a tent on the vacant land earmarked for the new museum to be built at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The Art of Dining crowd now is more diverse, with a much younger generation mixing with the old guard, and there is a great sense of positive energy for future growth.

The handsome crowd arrived at sunset for the Saturday night festivities, mingling in a cocktail reception al fresco prior to entering the white tent for dinner, an auction and a presentation from guest of honor and celebrated artist Sun Xun.


As the dinner crowd was seated and served the first of four courses, chairman of the museum board of trustees, Craig Wells, thanked the crowd and expressed the continuing theme of optimism for the future.

Museum director and CEO Todd Smith echoed the sentiments.

Well-known arts advocate and nationally recognized journalist Barbara Pollack came to the microphone center tent and introduced the remarkable life story of Xun vis-a-vis her own perspective based on interaction with him over recent years of following his course.

The artist’s journey is the stuff of a serious historical novel.

Born in the Chinese village of Fuxin, his family was subjected to horrific persecution, torture and banishment following the cultural Chinese revolution.

Xun, from an early age, would exhibit a passion for fine art.

The political climate in which he was raised would impact this artist’s path and find reflection in all of his work, which today encompasses a range of multi-media including painting, drawings, printmaking, sculpture, film, video, animation and much more.

He explores themes of global history including and beyond his own Chinese background, politics, culture and the human condition.

He has been called activist as well as artist and does not shy away from such labels, in fact he embraces them.

Pollack introduced the artist and he joined her on stage briefly telling the Art of Dining assemblage in his very quiet manner that he was so honored to be in their presence and grateful for the recognition.

“How can an artist not be an activist? How can art not be influenced by politics and by the human events of our time?” he asked the crowd.

Xun’s work has been featured at the Orange County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, The Hammer and Shanghai Biennale, among other notable houses of art.

His video and film creations have graced international festivals worldwide.

Presenting sponsor of Art of Dining 2017 was the House of Louis Vuitton, with additional major support from South Coast Plaza celebrating its 50th anniversary. Among other significant corporate sponsors included Southern California BMW dealers, City National Bank, Room & Board Home Furnishings, and Schroeder Investment Partners.

A short and classy auction brought in significant dollars as the crowd enjoyed a dinner of seared scallops and beef tenderloin catered by the Kitchen for Exploring Foods.

In the crowd were Sally and Randy Crockett, Twyla and Alan True, Barbara and Alex Bowie, Eve and Mike Ruffatto, Marta and Raj Bhathal, Stephanie and Ken Grody, Karen and Don Evarts, Allison Olmstead, Lilly and Paul Merage, Carol and Marshall Lee, and Pam and Sam Goldstein, the original founder and creator of Art of Dining 30 years ago.

B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.