REVIEW: A rare chance to see the largest survey of Granville Redmond assembled to date. His work on display at Laguna Art Museum is gorgeous, but lacking in variety. OCMAExpand offers six new exhibitions which complement each other well. They are finally on display after COVID-19 pandemic causes a delay.
Even as coronavirus cases surge across the country and in California, Orange County remains in the red tier (Tier 2), for now. That means museums are still open, which may come as a surprise to some.
Since mid-September, many Orange County museums have reopened their doors. But they must operate at 25% capacity and with some modifications, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”
The Laguna Art Museum (LAM) reopened Sept. 10 and has made its facilities what appears and feels to be extremely safe. When a visitor enters, a staff member checks the visitor’s temperature at the door. Those who are visibly sick are not allowed to proceed. Visitors and staff are required to wear face masks. Social distancing of six feet is strongly recommended.
You may need to buy your tickets in advance, which you can do on the museum’s website. But if you buy your tickets at the museum, chances are you’ll be able to get in right away. It’s not like people are clamoring in droves to the museums these days, or anywhere for that matter.
During a recent visit to LAM, I noticed that the galleries are very well ventilated. Each gallery has a black, air-purifying floor box, in addition to the HVAC system that’s running throughout the museum.
The current exhibition, “Granville Redmond: The Eloquent Palette,” organized by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, was initially supposed to close Sept. 20. But it has been extended through Nov. 15, which is this Sunday.
With 85 works, “Granville Redmond” is the largest survey of the painter’s work ever assembled, and it’s the first in more than 30 years dedicated to Redmond, who truly is one of the most important painters from the California Impressionist movement.
With hardly a question, he’s also one of the most important landscape painters to come out of California in general.
This survey covers his early work, his mid-career paintings and his later years. It’s a nice presentation, with galleries painted different colors according to period or theme.
One gallery is painted cobalt blue for Redmond’s signature nighttime landscapes, and aquamarine captures his early career.
A sunny, gold gallery includes Redmond’s mid-career paintings, and the main gallery is painted powdery gray, representing his later years.
Redmond’s personal history is fascinating. He contracted scarlet fever at 2 ½ years old and became deaf. While trying out for roles in silent movies in Hollywood, he met and became friends with Charlie Chaplin.
Between 1918 and 1929, Chaplin cast Redmond in seven of his films, and even gave the painter space on his movie lot to set up an artist’s studio. There’s a gallery in this LAM exhibit that explains this intriguing and productive relationship.
Redmond is in many circles a legend, so I’ll just jump right into it — many of these are amazing, gorgeous paintings. If you like poppy flowers and fields, you’re in for a treat.
He was extremely famous for those. In fact, we wouldn’t know about Granville Redmond if he didn’t do those commanding paintings of poppy fields bursting at just the right time, long before the Instagram era.
One of those paintings, “California Poppy Field,” adorns the cover of the catalog for the landmark LACMA exhibition, “Made in California, 1900-2000.” As that exhibit illustrated, Redmond is representative and symbolic of a certain era — the early 1900s to 1920s — in Golden State history, art and nostalgia.
The highest achievements by Redmond in my mind are the stunning nighttime works. These are luminous paintings, with dark blues and lights, and it’s cool to see them in one gallery at the same time.
Redmond paintings are scattered all over the place — he’s become a favorite among collectors, especially those specializing in California Impressionism. But these days, a Granville Redmond painting has dollar signs on it in any context. I just wish they had more dates on them.
Some of these paintings we’ve seen before, such as those that are in the collection of the late Joan Irvine Smith and her family, as well as those donated to UC Irvine and its Institute and Museum of California Art.
By the way, a quick hat tip to Jean Stern, who retired June 30 after serving for more than 28 years as executive director of the Irvine Museum, and then senior curator of California Impressionism at IMCA since 2016. Over the years, he always treated me with kindness and respect, even when I looked like I had just rolled out of bed. Of course, he knows the California Impressionists — and the history of the Irvine Museum — better than anyone.
But to get back on course, the collection the Crocker has organized is a worthy one and a pretty rare achievement. It is difficult to get this many Redmonds out the hands of collectors and institutions at once.
The only criticism I might level would be in the amount (or lack) of variety in style or subject matter from painting to painting. Especially in his later years, Redmond did his poppy fields and landscapes but apparently didn’t stray too far from the script, producing pleasing paintings developed from archetypes that had already won him success among patrons.
If you’re down in Laguna to have a look at the art museum, or just to go to the beach, check out Patrick Shearn’s outdoor installation, “Sunset Trace,” on view over Main Beach Park through Sunday, Nov. 15. It’s proven to be something of an unexpected crowd pleaser.
The colorful, rainbow-like installation — a “skynet” in the artist’s view — flutters and undulates with the wind and seems to have a life of its own. It was commissioned by the museum as part of its eighth annual “Art & Nature” series.
This will be LAM executive director Malcolm Warner’s final “Art & Nature” presentation, and it was a good run, indeed. After eight years at the helm, Warner is retiring in December.
OCMA Expands Horizons, Construction Budget
Over in Santa Ana, across the street from South Coast Plaza, the Orange County Museum of Art re-opened in mid-September as the county moved from purple to the red tier. OCMA is operating in its temporary OCMAExpand location, which used to be a Room & Board furniture store, as it awaits the completion of its new building at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
OCMA has six new exhibitions, which were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The six new exhibitions in season 4 are all solo shows, and they are:
- “Alexandra Grant: Telepathy Is One Step Further Than Empathy”
- “Carolyn Castaño: Cali es Cali”
- “Noé Martínez: The Homeland of the Images”
- “Marsia Alexander-Clarke: Ojos Profundos”
- “Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza: Navigating Technics”
- and “Kyungmi Shih: Father Crosses the Ocean.”
Also on view on the second floor are works from the museum’s permanent stash: “An Earth Song, A Body Song: Figures with Landscape from the OCMA Permanent Collection.”
It’s a challenging prospect to write about seven different exhibitions in one section (especially at this stage in the game). Many of the solo exhibits explore identity, travel over time and space, and the impacts of colonialism and forced cultural assimilation.
All of these artists hail from the Pacific Rim, which includes the West Coast of the United States and Canada, Asia and Latin America. So a check mark on diversity.
My favorites in this collection are “Kyungmi Shin: Father Crosses the Ocean,” which combines photo collages, porcelain busts, sculptures and interesting European references; “Noé Martínez: The Homeland of the Images” because of its stark representations of slavery, brutality and the legacies of violent colonial power and unspeakable loss; and Alexandra Grant’s show.
Grant has taken the phrase “I was born to love not to hate,” from Sophocles’ play “Antigone,” and turned it into her recurring theme on large-scale paper works and in mixed media. Her large-scale works combine text with images, lines and splashes, and are reminiscent of street art and Abstract Expressionism.
The two sculptural pieces, titled “I was born to love” (2019), consist of neon, acrylic and oil paint on shaped wood. They literally glow with the mirror image of the phrase, “I was born to love,” backwards and forwards.
Incidentally, the shapes of these two works are echoed in neon light on a wall outside the museum. A nifty touch.
Grant also has a pop-up shop called “grantLOVE” at the entrance of OCMAExpand. It’s fine if you’re in the mood for a $55 T-shirt. (Proceeds from grantLOVE pop-up shop will support the acquisition of art by underrepresented artists for OCMA’s collection.)
Carolyn Castaño’s “Cali es Cali” is a colorful assortment of drapery, plants and photographs from Cali, Colombia and Southern California. One could spend hours trying to determine who’s who in the dozens of old photographs — some of them are family members, some are complete strangers. The three bubble chairs near the end of her show — originally designed by Eero Aarnio in 1967 but replicated by Castaño’s father — are a fun, yet slightly weird, surprise. Do not sit in them, by the way.
Marisa Alexander-Clarke’s contributions are intriguing video works and colored light-against-blackness prints. Her “Sonidos (Sounds)” (2008) is worth a look, although it didn’t seem to emit any sounds during my visit.
Also worth noting: One of the galleries showing her video work was closed, due to the video being out of order. That’s a shame, but visitors did hear a distinct gong coming from behind the “closed” curtains on a semi-regular basis. Who doesn’t love a little mystery.
The selections from the permanent collection focus on landscape, figures in the landscape and environmental concerns. Artist Daniel Duford, who had his own exhibition at OCMA during season 3 between September 2019 and March 15, curated this presentation.
I liked the “Earth Song” poem by Langston Hughes introducing the show.
Kori Newkirk is always worth checking out, and his “Hutch” (2004) — made of artificial hair and beads — does not disappoint.
James Luna’s “End of the Frail” consists of a color Xerox of a James Earl Fraser sculpture depicting a “heroic” Native American on a horse, superimposed by a black and white photo of the non-heroic artist slouching on a saw horse. The piece was made in 1993 but still resonates today.
It was cool to see Jerry Rothman’s ceramic sculptures with “Leda and the Swan” (1988), and Carlos Almaraz’s oil painting, “Moonlight Bride” (1982) is mesmerizing in a quiet way. Joan Semmel’s painting “Renoir Revisited” (1977) daringly depicts the female body as a sort of larger-than-life landscape.
All of these shows complement each other well, and are meant to be walked through and experienced, one after the other.
OCMA is still waiting for its new, 53,000-square-foot building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis. Construction has been going on since September 2019, and the museum just had its “topping out” ceremony on Oct. 6.
During that virtual ceremony and announcement, OCMA also rather slyly announced that its multi-level structure will open in 2022, instead of 2021, and the price tag will be $75 million, not $73 as initially announced and planned.
That’s understandable, I suppose. These are difficult, unprecedented times, and COVID has seriously cut into everything.
Even during better times, finishing a huge arts building on time and on budget is a very rare achievement. Some of us remember when the new concert hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center — now the Segerstrom Center for the Arts — came in $40 million over budget, at $240 million, and was delayed by a year.
So what’s $2 million and a year? Chump change. A tick on the calendar. Perhaps by 2022, we’ll finally get through this long, interminable, international nightmare that is the coronavirus pandemic, and be able to celebrate something — in person — for a change.
Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at [email protected].