Thursday, January 27, 2011
The Monterey Museum of Art’s coming exhibition, The Art of California, 1880 to the Present, is an attempt to highlight part of the museum’s 14,000 piece permanent collection – in this case, early California paintings, works on paper, wood engravings and etchings, portraiture and photographs – and cast new angles on the region’s art history.
Part of the exhibition, in the Entry Gallery, was previewed at last week’s Art After Hours mixer, though the art had to share attention with a conversation-happy crowd, appetizers and music from flautist Kenny Stahl and guitarist Bob Burnett – plus the enigmatic and varied work of Beverly Rayner’s MontereyNOW show.
There was evidence of changes afoot: At last week’s reception a museum staff person distributed surveys to patrons about their perceptions of the museum. And recently the original two exhibitions were split into three, while pieces were still being curated last week – an unusual circumstance, according to Communication Director Mary De Groat and Assistant Curator Helaine Glick – in part due to an unusual catalyst.
“The exhibition fairy,” Glick says to De Groat. “As Marcelle likes to say.”
Then Glick exclaims: “She’s leaving us.”
The museum announced this month that after four-plus years, Chief Curator Marcelle Polednik would be leaving to become director at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida at the end of January.
“[She has] significantly advanced our exhibition program and collecting efforts,” says Executive Director E. Michael Whittington in a press statement.
Part of her legacy will linger in the artist/curator talks known as In Conversation, and two series that focus on contemporary art – In Process, which currently features Ingrid Calame at the La Mirada branch and the local-centric MontereyNOW series.
“Helaine will facilitate the upcoming exhibitions [in conjunction with] Michael, who will develop concepts for new exhibitions,” says De Groat. Some shows have been planned years in advance by Polednik; in the meantime a national search for a replacement is in the works.
Glick and De Groat previewed some pieces being considered for the show, which overlaps with the last one, Land & Sea: Paintings and Photographs of Monterey and Beyond, retaining many of those paintings for The Art of California. Three other galleries will be hung with fresh work from the vaults, including photographs by California pillars Edward, Cole and Brett Weston, Ansel Adams and Rod Dresser, and lesser-known contemporaries Steve Crouch and Robert Weingarten.
The photographs are mostly landscapes, in both black-and-white (Dresser’s “Sensual Dunes” is a sexy, suggestive study of sand dunes) and color (Weingarten, featured in ArtNews last March, captures endless horizons).
“We want to show things that haven’t been seen a lot,” Glick says.
Like a portrait of a young woman in a dark cape or shawl and flanked by flowers. It’s by artist Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985), who painted diverse women, including Mexicans, Hawaiians and Caribbeans, and visited the Peninsula for a spell.
The young woman in that painting looks furtive, her hand gently stroking a long braid of her black hair, her mouth betraying nothing of what’s going on inside, but her eyes attentive.
The painting itself is also inscrutable, its name and exact history lost in the march of time and distance.
“Sometimes [donations] works don’t have the lineage of the painting,” says De Groat, “the point of origin, where it was shown. Sometimes the story just doesn’t travel with the piece.”
“That’s part of the mystery [of] the art that comes to a museum,” says Glick.
Less a mystery is a vivid oil painting by Joseph Strong (1852-1899) called “Camp Crocker – G Company” of Second Artillery soldiers and San Francisco socialites at an encampment to celebrate – on July 4, 1880 – the opening of the Hotel Del Monte. Not only is its origin well-documented, but there is a key that helps identify all 31 people portrayed, including railroad tycoon Charles Crocker.
In contrast to that harmony of color, The Art of California will also feature wood engravings by Alexander Weygers and Armin Hansen. Their diminuitive dimensions draw the viewers’ eye in into intricate details of ocean waves and fishing boats, rendered by careful carvings.
The show as a whole looks to display the variety of the museum’s permanent collection. It will also be the start of a new era that may reveal something the county hasn’t seen before – but until the new curator arrives, that remains a mystery.
THE ART OF CALIFORNIA, 1880 TO THE PRESENT opens 11am-5pm Friday, Jan. 28, and runs to Oct. 23 at Monterey Museum of Art-Pacific, 559 Pacific St., Monterey. Marcelle Polednik conducts a final In Conversation curator’s talk with Beverly Rayner 3pm Saturday, Feb. 5, at MMA-Pacific. $2.50/students and military, $5/adult, free/member and kids 12 and under. Regular hours: 11am-5pm Wed-Sat; 1-4pm Sun. 373-5477, www.montereyart.org.