One of the guilty pleasures of being an art critic is having the chance to visit artists in their studios, ask questions, look at art closely, hear the stories, and - yes, smell the paint. When an artwork leaves the studio, the proverbial umbilical cord is cut; seen later - in a gallery or museum exhibition - the work continues to be appealing, but something is missing. And that something is the unique intimacy that only can be experienced by seeing the artwork in the midst of the creative chaos of an artist's studio.
A month ago, I waxed poetic about my visit to the studio of Los Angeles painter Dan McCleary, then in the throes of finishing a gigantic mural he was commissioned to create for a court house in New Mexico. His small, narrow studio near MacArthur Park was crammed with huge portraits and dozens of small, preparatory drawings and paintings. The energy and excitement of the moment was so palpable, I simply had to ask permission to bring my Art Collecting class. Dan agreed, and the subsequent visit turned out to be an inspiration not only for my students, but for the artist as well. One thing led to another, and Dan McCleary, at my urging, decided to open his studio to the public - this Saturday, May 15th - for just a few hours, from noon to 5pm. So here is some privileged information for you, my faithful listeners: his studio is located a few blocks east of Hoover Street at 2422 W. 6th Street, just north of Wilshire Boulevard. I'd love to hear about your experience.
As for myself, last Sunday I drove south to check out a couple of museum exhibitions. First I stopped by the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, where I discovered a rather raucous scene: hundreds of parents with their toddlers were celebrating Mother's Day by making a happy, colorful mess with the art supplies on dozens of tables strewn throughout the courtyard and garden. On the second Sunday of each month, museum admission is free, so it was a welcome change to see groups of people strolling through the usually quiet galleries.
Of the two exhibitions currently on display, the photo exhibition, "15 Minutes of Fame: Portraits from Ansel Adams to Andy Warhol," was the more popular. Along with iconic images by Edward Weston and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, there were portraits of Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, plus numerous photos by William Claxton of the late '60s jazz scene.
I was less taken by the second exhibition, devoted to museum acquisitions of the past decade; though there are a few interesting artworks, as a whole, the exhibition is all over the place and these particular works simply don't add up. Besides, I wondered why every wall label unnecessarily repeated the same fact - that each work came from the collection of the Orange County Museum of Art - redundant information, considering that the focus of the exhibition, referenced in its title, is the museum's permanent collection. It would be much more helpful, I kvetched to myself, if museum curators added to these labels biographical information about the artist.
Driving another 20 minutes, I found myself at the Laguna Art Museum, but it felt like a world away. The current exhibition, devoted to contemporary art and culture in Orange County, is a focused, thoughtful presentation of paintings, sculptures, video and photography produced by artists in the roughly fifty cities that comprise Orange County. And thankfully, this time each label succinctly communicated the essential information: the place and the year the artists were born and where they currently live. If you hurry, you can catch this exhibition in beautiful Laguna Beach before it closes this Sunday, May 16th.