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Pasadena Museum of California Art observes its 10th anniversary

Pasadena has an embarrassment of art riches. While Los Angeles’ art museums are outposts isolated from each other amid the urban sprawl, Pasadena claims a half-dozen art institutions in relatively close proximity.

Within that cluster, the Pasadena Museum of California Art enjoys a special status. It’s the younger, spunkier institution. You see it and you feel it as soon as you pull into the street-level garage, with colorful art graffiti festooning the walls. The PMCA’s imaginative and resourceful exhibitions have almost come to be taken for granted among the art public. It’s flush with recent triumphs: the Michael Duncan-curated survey of worthy-yet-seldom-seen post-war SoCal artists; the revelatory collection by the late Pasadena painter Richard Bunkall; the comprehensive retrospective by California plein-air master Edgar Payne.

The PMCA is observing its 10-year anniversary. That’s both a cause for celebration and the occasion to clearly assess the state of the institution. When the PMCA board recently took stock of its assets, liabilities, needs and wants, not surprisingly it uncovered a monetary shortfall.

This Saturday, PMCA hosts the “10 X 10 Benefit Art Auction,” an opportunity for the public to acquire donated works by 61 artists who represent PMCA’s past, present and future. Participating artists include Judy Baca, John Baldessari, Tim Biskup, Richard Bunkall, Soo Kim, Jerry McMillan, Sabina Ott, Edgar Payne, Ed Ruscha, Betye Saar, Kenny Scharf, Wayne Thiebaud and Ray Turner.

A musical performance by Killsonic and an installation, “The Three Muse,” by Anny Bray and Molly Cleator, will enliven the evening. Cocktails will be provided by Magixdogy, hors d’oeurves from Akasha Restaurant, and music spun by KCRW’s Mario Cotto. Tickets are $150 per person, or $250 per couple.

“Operating expenses have grown every succeeding year,” said David Partridge, PMCA’s chairman of the board, of the challenges of maintaining an art museum in the early 21st century. “It costs more to keep the lights on and the doors open, but we also have some renovating to do. Everyone remembers the free summer jazz nights we hosted on the museum’s roof. But all of that traffic has resulted in some leaks that we have to take care of. We’re also looking to the future and thinking about new shows we’d like to host.”

Simon Chiu has been a board member since 2005. His background is in real estate, and he’s a doctoral candidate in architecture at USC.

“I was a collector of Western art,” Chiu says, “and that’s what drew me to the museum. I’ve served on other boards, but this is a unique group. We have some very supportive people who work with us behind the scenes, and the artists have been very generous with their work. This auction will allow the public to buy some fine art at very good prices.”

Los Feliz-based artist Nancy Baker Cahill, who has a mercurial installation at the PMCA show, said artists have a special feeling toward the institution.

“Most artists would love to show there, and many of us feel grateful to the museum,” she said. “It’s a very supportive institution. When you work with them, it’s an open dialogue. My work in the Project Room is acrylic on fiberglass paper and video — not every museum would have embraced what I did with open arms. But they seem to want to make every show distinctive, and I like that.”

KIRK SILSBEE writes on jazz and culture for Marquee.

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What: 10 X 10 Benefit Art Auction

Where: Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena

When: Saturday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m.

Contact: (626) 568-3665, ext. 18


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