Mark Saltzman programs an eclectic array of concerts at Boston Court Pasadena

Many people know Boston Court Pasadena as a terrific place to catch theater — less well known is its lively and ongoing program of music ranging from classical to jazz to experimental. The upcoming winter/spring season promises to be another eclectic and exciting one, programmed by the energetic Mark Saltzman, the arts center’s artistic director of music for the past seven years.

Meeting in the venue’s sunlit lobby one afternoon, Saltzman talks about his background, how he got this dream job and what he has planned for next season. He’s dressed casually in a striped T-shirt, jeans and very spiffy sneakers. His smile is particularly dazzling, and he exudes a charisma that makes you understand why he was so successful as a performer, before becoming an administrator.

Born in Berkeley, Saltzman grew up, as he says, “in the middle of the Mojave Desert” — in Barstow. Even though it might have been remote, “at that time there were a lot of public school music programs. This was back in the ’60s, and they would provide an instrument for you at your school.” In the fourth grade he decided to take up the cello. “I thought the cello was a great instrument,” he says. “It sounds the most like the human voice.” He also studied piano but later, as an undergrad at UC Irvine, he majored in voice partly because he was so impressed with the head of the choral department, Maurice Allard. “He was handsome and erudite, and he had a beautiful baritone voice,” he says. “He was filled with spirit and life.” 

After graduation, Saltzman pursued a professional singing career — he is a tenor — and performed in opera and concert halls throughout the world. He eventually expanded into writing, directing and producing for companies such as the Los Angeles Opera, the Long Beach Opera, CalArts and the American Conference of Cantors. From 1983 to ’86 he lived in Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, where he joined the Music Theatre Studio Ensemble; the company was charged with creating “this new form called ‘music theater,’” which incorporated performance, readings and dance with music. 

After a tour of Europe, he came back to Los Angeles and was perturbed by his daughter’s reaction to his absence. “When she was about 4½ and I came home, I could tell she had a hard time recognizing me. So a job was offered to me to cantor by a synagogue in West Hollywood,” he says. “I was about 40 then, and I thought, it’s about time to settle in.” For 20 years he was the cantor for Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, where he is now cantor emeritus. It was a part-time job, which left him time to do other things, like compose music and write.

Eight years ago, Saltzman wrote a piece that interwove the story of human rights activist Elie Wiesel with the story of Job’s wife, to be presented at a special remembrance of the Holocaust sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. Jessica Kubzansky, Boston Court’s artistic director of theater, was hired to direct. At the time, the venue happened to be launching  a music series and, Kubzansky says, “It became clear that his many talents and skill sets were just what Boston Court needed to bring our music programming to the next level.” She invited him to come by to check out the facilities.

“I went to the concert hall, and I fell in love with it,” Saltzman says. In a few days, he drew up three years of programming, which he presented to their then–executive director, Michael Seel. “That space is really only good for acoustic music,” he told Seel. “We can do some electronics, but we can’t do rock and roll, it doesn’t work for that.” Seel was duly impressed and gave him the job. 

Boston Court has two theaters, and the music programs take place in the wood-paneled Marjorie Branson Performance Space, which seats 80. “This is a very special space, designed for music,” says David Lockington, the musical director of the Pasadena Symphony, who himself will be performing there on March 24, 2019. “It’s well-funded, it’s committed to experimental repertoire and Mark is such a fantastic advocate for the arts on so many levels.”

With his ample contacts and eclectic tastes, Saltzman has been able to bring in a wide array of talent. And as the program’s reputation grew, many artists began contacting him about performing there. The music series emphasizes work by living artists, but he has no trouble programming older work as well.

Lockington first performed at Boston Court last spring and is looking forward to his upcoming appearance. “Cello is my main performing instrument,” he says in a phone interview. “I love playing chamber music, I love playing concertos.” Next spring he’ll
present several of his own pieces, including “The Violet Viola Concerto,” based on a lullaby he wrote for his granddaughter, born early this year (yes, her name is Violet). Instrumentalists will include viola, cello and piano, and perhaps flute and harp — he’s still writing the chamber music version of this concerto. That same weekend he’ll be conducting the Pasadena Symphony in a far older piece, Mahler’s First Symphony, at the Ambassador Auditorium (March 23). 

Boston Court’s upcoming music program continues to reflect Saltzman’s eclectic tastes. It launches on Feb. 14 with Storm Large — better known as the vocalist for the band Pink Martini — and continues with chamber music, duets and quartets, a salute to Scottish composer Thea Musgrave (Feb. 23), the concert version premiere of an opera about designer Alexander McQueen (March 1) and a jazz band led by Josh Nelson (March 8), all culminating in an appearance by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (March 31).

The LACC is now under the artistic direction of new arrival Fernando Malvar-Ruiz. “One of the things I’m trying to do with the chorus is to step away from certain stereotypes,” he says. “I’m trying to find other places where choral music can happen.” While he hasn’t finalized his program, he knows he will want to have two or three ensembles.  “I’m thinking of work that combines poetry and music,” he says, “music that represents a diversity of styles, that embraces the breadth of choral music.” (This winter the chorale will also perform Dec. 9 and 16 at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.)

“I try to do mostly local, I really want to highlight local talent,” says Saltzman. “We are a local institution, and we have great talent here.” 

Boston Court Pasadena is located at 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Visit bostoncourtpasadena.org for the schedule and tickets.

A new museum show unveils dozens of previously obscure artists.

As an art conservator, Maurine St. Gaudens has spent over four decades looking at paintings both by the famous and the unknown. For some time she noticed quite remarkable work by women painters she hadn’t known about, some of whom used only an initial for their first name. “They wanted to be genderless, they’d been so discriminated against,” says St. Gaudens in her Pasadena dining room (and now office), the table stacked with books, papers and a model of the Pasadena Museum of History exhibition she is working on. That exhibition is based on the four-volume set of books she started on 10 years ago, Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860 – 1960 (Schiffer Publishing; 2015).

St. Gaudens makes clear these women weren’t Sunday painters. “These were professional artists,” women who had had art training, exhibited their work in public, taught art and otherwise “pursued an art career for at least 15 years,” she says emphatically. In 2012 she was joined in her work by Joseph Morsman, a collector specializing in prints and drawings who wanted to help with further research.

“When I came on board, I introduced a number of artists that Maurine wasn’t familiar with,” Morsman says from behind a computer, at the end of the dining table. “Then we went out to supplement the works that we already had, and we were talking with collectors. We’d asked them if they had A, B or C in their collection. They’d say, ‘But do you have E, F, and G in your book?’ We said, ‘Can we see images?’ Then we’d fall in love, and we kept adding.” They tracked down names and backgrounds through newspaper clippings and files at libraries, historical societies and museums — and sometimes even found surviving family members. St. Gaudens’ original list of 100 women artists eventually exploded to 320, and ended up filling four volumes.

In collaboration with Morsman, St. Gaudens has curated an ambitious new exhibition inspired by the books: Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960 runs through March 31, 2019, at the Pasadena Museum of History. It will include some 300 works, reflecting a wide variety of styles and subjects, by 160 artists; most are included in the books, but the show will also include a few artists they’ve discovered since publication. To present more works than the intimate museum can display at any one time, they will change out about 40 percent of the work midway through.

A number of the artists, such as Ruth Asawa, Helen Lundeberg, Ynez Johnston, Agnes Pelton and June Wayne, will be familiar to art aficionados. Many others will be little known, if at all — even if some of their art may be familiar, as in the case of Ada May Sharpless. Sharpless was the sculptor who created the Art Deco–style Lady of the Lake (1934) statue at Echo Park Lake, as well as the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (1933) at the Santa Ana Historical Museum (now the Bowers Museum). 

One of the pair’s proudest finds is Ruth Miller Kempster (1904–1978), whose painting Housewife (circa 1935) graces the cover of Volume 2 and will be a centerpiece in the exhibition. “It’s one of the greatest discoveries of the book,” says Morsman. Housewife is a sublimely painted oil on canvas of a woman in a red dress under a white apron, standing at the sink washing dishes and looking out with tired eyes at the viewer. Already the gaze of the female subject makes it unusual; for centuries women were looked upon, the passive subject of the male gaze, while in this painting the woman looks out actively. In the background is a young daughter returning a cup to the cupboard, and further back, in the dining room, is the husband reading the newspaper after dinner. It is a snapshot of 1930s Middle America after dinner — after the woman has cooked the obligatory evening meal, she has to clean up also (a scenario that persists for many women). Her universe is the kitchen and the home, her day a series of chores from morning to night, while presumably he goes out to work during the day, then gets to enjoy dinner at home and scan the newspaper — keeping him in touch with the world outside.

Born in Chicago, Kempster came to Pasadena with her family. She studied at the Otis Art Institute and later at the Arts Students League in New York City. Around 1925 she attended L’École des Beaux Arts in Paris and later lived in Florence, until she returned home with her parents in 1928. (Sounds like they had to bring her back!) Kempster painted in a spare room and submitted her painting Struggle, depicting a white man and an African-American man wrestling in an arena, in the fine arts competition for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. The judges recognized her accomplishment and awarded her the Silver Medal in Painting. (The painting was recently acquired by the Huntington Library, Arts Collections and Botanical Gardens.)

One of St. Gaudens’ favorite paintings from her own collection was once an unknown. Years ago she obtained a small painting of the Russian River, signed “C. A. Van Epps” in the lower right corner and dated 1902. “It took me two years to track her down,” says Morsman. “Epps was an Illinois artist, she was raised and educated in Illinois, and she didn’t come out here till about 1900, but I couldn’t find information about her in California. I ended up contacting a historian in Illinois. They gave me her early life, and I gave them her later life.” Epps spent the last 40 years of her life in Los Angeles, and the exquisite landscape showing a lazy stretch on the Northern California river will be included in the show.

“One of the problems is that in the time period, most of them married,” says St. Gaudens. “Sometimes they married three, four, five times, so in some cases they had three, four, five names to trace. It was maddening.” A few women even changed their names completely, creating an artist’s persona. One painter in the show is still a puzzle; her work is the large, striking Portrait of Gladys, which was painted by “Paula Zen” and exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art in 1938. It is a large painting of a woman in profile, wearing a tall cylindrical hat and a voluminous coat. In her lap is a book and behind her a building that looks to be made of children’s building blocks — it may all signify something, but what? The painting is labeled on the back with the title and the artist’s name, and the researchers managed to find the exhibition brochure listing the work. However, they know nothing more about Zen and have no other examples of her work.

“Paula Zen is a true mystery,” says Morsman. “We’re hoping someone will say, ‘I have a Paula Zen at home’ or ‘I, too, have been researching this artist.’”

“She’s the only one we can’t find,” St. Gaudens adds, “and she was exhibited in this major exhibition.”

Which just goes to show that work like this is never done. “Part of the purpose of the book is to make people think, and to discover artists they’re intrigued by and to continue the research,” Morsman says. While they cut off the book project at 320 artists, they know there are more, many more woman artists, yet to be rediscovered and commemorated.

“Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860–1960” runs through March 31, 2019, at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena. Exhibition hours are noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission costs $9, $8 for seniors and students; free for members and children under 12. Call (626) 577-1660 or visit pasadenahistory.org.

East meets West in Stan Lai’s original new play at the Huntington.

The Huntington’s Chinese Garden, or Liu Fang Yuan (Garden of Flowing Fragrance), is the atmospheric setting for Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, a new play by Stan Lai running through Oct. 26. Festival director of the wildly popular Wuzhen Theatre Festival staged every October in the picturesque town of Wuzhen, China, Lai takes on the occasional special project — two years ago he directed The Dream of the Red Chamber for the San Francisco Opera. That same year the acclaimed Washington, D.C.–born playwright was commissioned by the CalArts Center for New Performance and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens to create a new play for the Chinese Garden, which would be staged around its man-made lake. Audience members would witness scenes as they unfolded in the various pavilions, terraces and bridges.
“The opportunity to do something like this is very rare,” says Lai, enjoying a moment of respite between rehearsals on the terrace of the garden tea house, dubbed Terrace That Invites the Mountains. A soft breeze is blowing across the lake, which is lined with gnarly Taihu rocks from China, and temperatures are beginning to cool. “To do a site-specific, immersive project that is real theater, not just an installation or something, this is a different thing. It’s storytelling that occurs through a garden.”
Each night’s intimate audience of 40 gathers first at the tea house, formally called the Hall of the Jade Camellia, then splits into two groups to watch various scenes being performed on the east and west sides of the lake. Both groups will see the same scenes, but in a different order.
The inspiration for Nightwalk came to Lai when he toured this garden three years ago. He shared his idea with Travis Preston, dean of the CalArts School of Theater, who’d wanted to do a project with him through their Center for New Performance. “We’re not really looking for plays, we’re looking for artists we want to work with,” Preston says in a phone interview. “Stan’s a writer and director at the same time. He’s devising the work as he’s rehearsing it; that’s very consistent with the kind of experimentation we’re interested in. There’s also a lyricism in Stan’s work I find very moving.”
Lai, who shuttles between Taiwan and China, conducted a workshop in 2016 with prospective actors and participants at CalArts and the Chinese Garden. His idea was to weave together two stories: one involving Henry Huntington, the railroad magnate whose collections and estate make up the core of The Huntington, and the other, the Chinese opera classic The Peony Pavilion.
The Peony Pavilion is a tragicomedy written by Tang Xianzu in 1598 — the original play ran for 55 scenes and took over 20 hours to perform. (Nightwalk runs about 90 minutes.) In it a young maiden, Du Liniang, enters a garden where she dreams of a handsome scholar, Liu Mengmei, and tumbles head over heels in love with him. She falls so deeply that when she awakens, she wastes away pining for him. Later, this same scholar visits her garden and has a dream about her. In the dream he’s encouraged to find her grave and exhume her body — which he does, and she miraculously comes back to life, uncorrupted.
“It’s one of the most famous Chinese plays, but not well known outside of China,” says Lai in his deep, measured voice. “It’s so steeped in the tradition that I’m very interested in and write about myself a lot, which is the reality of dreams, the reality of art, also my own interest in the creative process itself — these are the things that are blending together in the garden here.” In his play, the playwright becomes part of the story. “He’s in the midst of writing The Peony Pavilion,” says Lai, and Du Liniang becomes his imagined heroine and muse. “Du Liniang is trying to teach him how to write.”
The Western part of the story takes place in the early 1920s, when Henry Huntington acquires the Thomas Gainsborough painting, The Blue Boy, today a pride and joy of the Huntington art collection and the subject of a concurrent exhibition (see page 15). His curator also introduces him to Chinese opera, via an excerpt from The Peony Pavilion, which is performed in Nightwalk on a rotating basis by two stars of the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe. After our interview, Lai invites me to stay for the rehearsal and the kunqu performance. This takes place late in the evening, in the Clear and Transcendent pavilion, which has been equipped with seats — and the audience becomes Henry Huntington’s guests. As Du Liniang, Luo Chenxue comes from stage right, prostrate with grief and pining for her dream lover, while sending her regrets to her mother. Almost collapsing, Luo begins her plaintive aria, her eyes bright with tears — without even understanding the words, the performance is literally a showstopper. Everyone stops what they’re doing — actors, tech crew, guests — and listens. It’s a heartrending, deeply convincing performance, despite the fact that Luo is not dressed for the part, instead clad in a T-shirt and jeans.
Most of the other actors are CalArts students and alumni — Reggie Yip, a CalArts graduate, as the Chinese maid, and Hao Feng, a current CalArts MFA student, as the Playwright — the play’s protagonist. Two years ago Yip was in the workshop Lai held in preparation for the production. While most of the play is in English, both point to specific Chinese cultural elements reflected in the script. “If you listen to the language, the way the language flows, there’s a cadence,” says Yip, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. That’s also the case with certain themes: “I’m on the East side of the piece, and there’s a lot of conversation about gender roles, this hierarchy of family that’s very Chinese.” “Filial piety,” adds Feng.
During rehearsals Lai is remarkably low-key. He speaks calmly, but with authority. Asked about his directorial style, he says, “Why do you want to scare people? You want to encourage people. That’s the basis of my method — to let people profoundly understand who the character is, because maybe I don’t even know who the character is when I’m creating it. It’s not like this is Hamlet or an already created character. This is something that I’m working on together with my actor, exploring a character.”
And the Chinese Garden’s uniqueness makes it the perfect setting for that character, Lai says. “I’ve been in many gardens in China, in Suzhou in particular,” he says. “The beauty of the Chinese garden always has to do with classical poetry or classical literature. You know, the scenic spots always need a story or a reference.” That’s certainly true of The Chinese Garden — every scenic point has a poetic name — and serendipitously enough, The Huntington has just announced the final phase of its construction. “It’s all about order: In a way it’s a little strange, in another way it’s exquisite.”

Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, written and directed by Stan Lai, is performed at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Oct. 26 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Ticket prices range from $85 to $150, depending on day and membership status. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Visit huntington.org.

The only university museum of art from Asia and the Pacific Islands reopens after extensive renovations.

Many have passed the two-story Chinese-style building on North Los Robles Avenue in Old Pasadena and wondered, What’s behind those thick beige walls topped with a green-tiled roof, curled up at the edges? A mural on the side wall provides clues — a large dragon with a twisting body, red stalks of bamboo and a seal-shaped sign containing the words “Pacific Asia Museum.” Now under the auspices of the University of Southern California, the Pacific Asia Museum (PAM) is the only university museum dedicated to the arts of Asia and the Pacific Islands, and it reopened in December after a year-and-a-half of seismic retrofitting and renovations.

I enter the reception area through an arched portal, and Christina Yu Yu, the museum’s director for the last three years, comes down from upstairs offices to greet me.  We start our interview in the first gallery of the current show — Winds from Fusang: Mexico and China in the Twentieth Century, running through June 10 as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time LA/LA initiative focusing on Latin American and Latino art. We talk about some of the changes that have taken place, including the most obvious one: the removal of the old gift shop — it used to be in the large space where we are now seated — to make way for exhibition space.  (But don’t worry; a smaller gift shop will be installed by the entrance desk.) 

“Our mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding, through arts and culture,” says Yu Yu, a former curator of Chinese and Korean art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “How to make it happen, I think there are different strategies: before, we were very much a community-focused museum, and that is something we are still very committed to — we want to introduce Asian arts and culture to Southern California.  Now that we are part of USC, [we want] to be integrated into the curriculum, that is something we’ve added.” One thing they’re working on, for example, is an augmented reality experience for visitors, possibly involving their cellphones. This collaboration with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Technology Program will be “like a treasure hunt.”

The building itself has long held a special place in the cultural history of Pasadena. It was built in 1924 for Grace Nicholson, an art collector and dealer who specialized in Native American and Asian art and artifacts. The architectural firm of Marston, Van Pelt & Maybury designed it in the style of a Chinese nobleman’s mansion, replete with a central courtyard containing a garden and a small pond.  To ensure authenticity, Nicholson ordered some of the materials — including ceramic tiles, stone and marble carvings — directly from China; other architectural details were made by local craftsmen who studied photographs of Chinese buildings. When the building opened, the downstairs rooms functioned as an art gallery and shop, while the second floor was Nicholson’s home.

In 1943 she donated the building to the City of Pasadena, retaining the right to live there until her death in 1948. Later it was occupied by the Pasadena Art Institute, which in 1954 became the Pasadena Art Museum.  In 1970 that museum moved to Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards and became part of the Norton Simon Museum.  The following year, the Pacificulture Foundation moved into the Nicholson building, starting the Pacific Asia Museum and eventually purchasing the property.

Small museums are notoriously difficult to sustain financially, unless they have a hefty endowment, and this one did not. After years of financial struggle as a nonprofit, the museum came under the umbrella of USC in 2013, a move that brought in more than $1 million to help underwrite the museum’s operating costs through its transitional period. USC also paid for an overall evaluation of the physical facilities, which led to the recent retrofitting and renovations; those cost another few million (the museum declines to reveal exactly how much).  In addition to the retrofitting, the university also improved collections storage spaces, reinstalled the permanent exhibition and began a thorough inventory of holdings. Ultimately, the museum is expected to be self-sustaining.

Visitors enter the museum building from the north wing, where the admissions desk and reception area are located. (The special exhibition galleries are in the south wing.) From there, a series of small galleries introduces visitors to Pacific Island, South Asian and Southeast Asian art, with the large galleries at the end of this wing dedicated to China, Japan and Korea. “We have 15,000 items in our collection,” Yu Yu says. “Geographically we cover all the regions in Asia, and chronologically, our oldest pieces are from 4,000 years ago. We have Neolithic pottery, and we also have contemporary art.” While museum officials will eventually pursue more acquisitions, their immediate focus is on exhibitions and programming.

There are a number of outstanding items on display in the permanent collection, and Yu Yu highlights them during a walkthrough. From India is a medium-size second-century sandstone sculpture showing a “loving couple,” as the label says. “This is actually one of the earliest stone sculptures in Southern California,” she points out.

In the Chinese section, her attention veers toward a blue-and-white plate, with a qilin, a lion-like mythical animal, painted in the center. It dates from the late Yuan to early Ming periods (i.e., the early 14th century) and reflects a Persian influence in its decorative border and use of cobalt blue. “It’s one of the most important pieces here,” says Yu Yu. In the Japan section, there are several classical woodblock prints, including the iconographic South Wind, Clear Sky by Katsushika Hokusai. This is the close-up of Mt. Fuji under a lacy canopy of clouds, part of a famous series depicting the majestic mountain from different angles.

The temporary Winds from Fusang exhibition explores a little-known topic — the interchange between Chinese and Mexican artists that occurred in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s, after China had become a Communist nation. The show was co-curated by Yu Yu and guest curator Shengtian Zheng, a veteran Chinese art scholar and curator based in Vancouver.

During an exhibition preview, Zheng explained the show’s inspiration. “Fusang is not a real place,” he said. “In Chinese mythology, it’s a mysterious place in the East.” For the Chinese in the 20th century, Mexico seemed a faraway and exotic place. In the 1930s Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias visited China twice, and several of his stylized illustrations are in the show, as well as works by Chinese artists who emulated him. Then in 1956, the touring exhibition National Front of Plastic Arts of Mexico: An Exhibition of Paintings and Prints introduced more than 60 Mexican artists to a Chinese audience, starting in Beijing. The show included works by Diego Rivera, Xavier Guerrero, Leopoldo Méndez, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. That year Siqueiros himself made a trip to China, meeting important officials such as Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, as well as a number of Chinese artists.

The exhibition shows their correspondence and pamphlets, actual artworks included in the 1956 exhibition, as well as art by Chinese artists influenced by the show. “This exhibition had a strong impact on Chinese muralists,” says Zheng. One was Yunsheng Yuan, who designed a major mural for the Beijing International Airport in 1979. Yuan had visited the minority Dai people in Yunnan Province, and his mural showed them celebrating the Water Splashing Festival, much as the Mexican muralists had celebrated the life and culture of indigenous peoples in their own country. The Chinese mural turned out to be a controversial one, since it showed nude figures.

A new Huntington exhibition spotlights rare artworks depicting Latin American nature, from the time of Columbus to Darwin’s era.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed west in search of a new route to India and its spices. During his five-month exploration of the Americas, he paid close attention to to the flora and fauna. When he returned he wrote a long letter to his patrons, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, and word of his remarkable voyage quickly spread. That was aided by an invention launched just a few decades before his voyage the printing press with movable metal type developed in the mid-1450s by Johannes Gutenberg. Columbus wrote of “many sierras and very lofty mountains…All are most beautiful, of a thousand shapes,” and “trees of a thousand kinds and tall, so that they seem to touch the sky.” There were colorful birds, and plants that were a “wonder to behold.”

Many explorers and soldiers of fortune followed Columbus, and they brought along draftsmen and cartographers. In the new exhibition Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin (through Jan. 8, 2018) at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, co-curators Catherine Hess and Daniela Bleichmar outline the early European views of the New World, using a deft combination of maps and artifacts, art and illustrations, manuscripts and books, three-quarters borrowed from other institutions. Some of the period accounts were by actual visitors, but many were by fabulists who freely adapted known accounts and drew imagined scenarios, both plugging into and creating myths and stereotypes about indigenous culture.

Of course the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas is now a morally contentious subject. Europeans claimed the land and resources for their own, subjugated the local population and introduced devastating diseases. Visual Voyages, part of this year’s Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative focusing in Latin American and Latino art, deliberately offers some indigenous views. For example, in the late 1500s the Spanish Council of the Indies ordered administrators to draw maps of their townships and resources, and many were done by indigenous artists.

The two in the exhibition are delightful maps that present surrounding features such as mountains and rivers in multiple perspectives. “It is not the trained, vanishing-point perspective of European depiction,” says Hess, leading a preview tour of the exhibition. “It is a more creative way of depicting one’s surroundings.” A couple of centuries later, the Royal Botanical Expedition to the New Kingdom of Granada (in what is now Colombia and Venezuela) of 1783–1816 recruited some 60 local artists, many of whom must have been of mixed heritage. Hess has chosen 20 of these beautiful illustrations, borrowed from the Archivo del Real Jardin Botanico in Madrid, and they are gems of elegantly arranged leaves, tendrils and flowers on paper.

“PST: LA/LA gave us the opportunity to look at our three collecting areas  — research library, art and botanical  — and see what topic might be relevant to the initiative,” says Hess, the Huntington’s chief curator of European Art and interim director of the Art Collections. “Partnering with Daniela allowed us to celebrate, and put to use, the amazingly rare and rich Latin American material on nature and natural history that’s in the library’s collections and doesn’t often come to public light.” Bleichmar is an associate professor of Art History and History at USC, specializing in the history of science with a particular interest in how intercultural contacts have transformed what we know. Deeply familiar with the Huntington collections since she came to Los Angeles 13 years ago, she proposed the exhibition idea to the Huntington when the PST: LA/LA initiative was announced.

The lobby of the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery en route to the main exhibition displays several taxidermied animals from the new World, borrowed from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and other sources. They include a colorful macaw, a brown sloth hanging upside down and a beautiful black-and-white anteater with a long, elegant snout  — examples of wildlife European visitors would have found so astounding. So bizarre and astonishing as to inspire His Majesty’s Giant Anteater, a large painting from 1776 now hanging in the middle of the exhibition. The anteater had been shipped from Argentina to King Charles III of Spain, who was so proud of his unusual pet he had his court painter do her portrait. The perspective is at the animal’s eye level, and her long, skinny tongue protrudes. One can almost hear the oohs and aahs of visitors to the Spanish court as they admired this oddity of nature.

Perhaps the exhibition’s most striking object is on view in the center of the first gallery  — a long red cape composed of thousands of feathers, dating from the 17th century and displayed in its own showcase. The cape is not only gorgeous, it is rare  — only one of 12 existing feather capes made by the Tupinambá people of Brazil. “They are really important prestige objects,” Bleichmar says in a phone interview. “Very important men wore them in ceremony. It’s an object that helps us to begin to understand a different world view, one in which humans and the natural world are not separate, but completely fluid. The person who put this on was becoming a bird, transforming from human to animal-like.”

A nearby vitrine showcases two illustrations about the cultural contact Bleichmar studies. They are two versions of the same image, circa 1600,  one an original ink drawing borrowed from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the other an engraving in the Huntington’s own collection. The Discovery of America: Vespucci Landing in America depicts the imagined meeting between Amerigo Vespucci, the “discoverer” of America, and a female figure representing America. Standing on shore, Vespucci is fully clothed, wearing a suit of armor beneath his tunic and holding a staff topped with a cross in one hand and an astrolabe in the other — symbolizing Christianity and civilization, respectively. Meanwhile, “America” is nude, about to step down from a hammock where she has been resting. The nudity indicates her “savage” state. In the background, members of her tribe are roasting a human leg, since cannibalism was thought part of the uncivilized culture she represents. The image seems almost comical, except that this played into prejudices of the time and encouraged Europeans to look at indigenous peoples as less than human.

What a contrast this image is to the two large paintings at the end of the show, which exalt the grandeur of the Latin American landscape and suggest the civilization there. One is by the famous American Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church, who traveled to South America twice, in search of vistas. His 1864 painting, Chimborazo, shows a highly picturesque view of a jungle and mountains beyond.  In the foreground is a cute hut on a river with a couple on the dock and their child nearby. Through an opening in the trees, we see a town beyond. Mount Chimborazo, a volcano, hovers like a ghost even farther in the distance.

On the other hand, Jose Velasco’s Valle de Mexico (1877) has details only a native could offer. Standing on a hill, one looks down a valley with Lake Texcoco on the left and two landmark volcanoes beyond. A long aqueduct leads down the center of the painting to a small town at the base of a small mountain, and from there two roads lead to Mexico City. One can barely make out spires and rotundas of a burgeoning metropolis. In the foreground is a prickly pear and an eagle in flight: two symbols of Mexican nationalism, which was no accident.  The artist wrote after his signature on the painting, “mexicano.” 


Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin runs through Jan. 8, 2018 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday). Adult admission costs $25 on weekdays ($29 on weekends and holidays), $21 ($24) for students 12 to18 and seniors 65+ and $13 ($13) for kids 4 to 11; children under 4 and members are admitted free.

Spirited and tragic newspaper images of the Chicano rights movement in L.A. are on view in La Raza at the Autry Museum.

Every important political movement has its signature publication, and the Chicano rights movement had La Raza. The bilingual publication began as a newspaper in 1967 and morphed into a magazine by the time it folded in 1977. Started in the basement of an Episcopalian church in Lincoln Heights by labor activists Eliezer Risco and Ruth Robinson, La Raza would become an influential voice and advocate for the movement, or El Movimiento.

La Raza published satire, poetry, art and political commentary, but key to its impact were the photographs— shot by a team of volunteer photographers who dutifully went out to record what was happening in El Movimiento and the lives of Chicanos. In recent years, those photographs — some 25,000 of them in prints, negatives and contact sheets — were gifted to the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. With the announcement of Pacific Standard Time LA/LA, the Getty-sponsored initiative exploring art and culture in and between Los Angeles and Latin America, the time was ripe to make them public. The Center decided to partner with the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park to present the exhibition La Raza (through Feb. 10, 2019), a selection of some 200 of those photographs.

As visitors enter the gallery, they will see a changing series of photographs projected onto the wall, giving a quick snapshot of exhibition. On the left will be a series of portraits — the two founders of La Raza on the upper left and then a dozen of the photographers with their cameras. One of them is Luis C. Garza, the show’s co-curator along with the Autry’s chief curator Amy Scott, and he recently previewed the exhibition during installation. Garza worked with La Raza from 1968 to 1972. “There were 48 or 49 issues over a 10-year period,” he says, pointing at the adjoining wall where actual issues of the publication would be displayed. “It was hard to find a complete set,” adds Scott, who has also joined us.

The term “la raza” literally means “race,” but is usually interpreted as “the people.” How did Garza come to join the publication? “It was karma, it was fate, it was God guiding my search for employment as a young man,” says Garza, a tall and courtly man who was a student at UCLA when he started working at La Raza. “I was introduced to Joe Razo and Raul Ruiz, who were becoming the co-editors of La Raza. I had a camera, a Pentax, with a 135mm lens and a 50mm lens. Because I was a cameraman, I became involved with La Raza, which forever changed the course of my life.”

They covered demonstrations, marches and speeches, they captured scenes of police surveillance and brutality, they portrayed communities and individuals. They were not only recording what was happening, they were part of the movement.

The photographs in the exhibition have been divided thematically into five sections and include a couple dozen by Garza. His 1972 photograph in the “Portraits of a Community” section, Homeboys, is a casual closeup of two pals hanging out at the local playground of a Boyle Heights housing project. One wears a tall and dapper fedora, while his buddy sports a flower-patterned shirt. Both look calmly into the camera, certainly at ease since they knew the man on the other end of the lens was one of their own. In a photo in “The Body” section, Garza has captured an actor in a calavera (or skull) costume, dancing with a tambourine during a performance by the Teatro Campesino on a college campus.

“This is one of my favorite sections,” says Scott, as we move to the “Portraits” section. “They’re beautiful portraits in and of themselves, but they also speak to the complex and nuanced nature of the Chicano community, one that defies stereotypes. It speaks to the way multiple generations, from elders all the way to the smallest, were really participants and had experiences of bias and discrimination firsthand.” There is an enlargement of a boy happily carrying a “Viva La Revolución” sign as he walks in a march, and another of a young girl in pigtails with a bundle of La Raza papers clutched in her arms — the headline, “La Raza Raided.”

The exhibition shows how El Movimiento was part of a larger national movement for civil rights, with images of Chicanos demonstrating for farmworkers’ rights and against the Vietnam War, and in solidarity with Native Americans and African Americans. Something earth-shattering occurred at one of those demonstrations in 1970, leading to the death of noted Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar of KMEX-TV and the LA Times. One corner is devoted to the tragedy:

It was the day of the National Chicano Moratorium March, a protest against the Vietnam War, which seemed to draft a disproportionate number of Chicano recruits. After the march La Raza photographer Raul Ruiz was resting on a curb on Whittier Boulevard, when he noticed L. A. County Sheriff’s deputies arriving. Something was up, so he raised his camera to take pictures, until the deputies asked him to leave. At one point the police fired a tear-gas canister into the crowded Silver Dollar Bar and Café where Salazar had been sitting, enjoying a beer. It killed him instantly. To this day many question whether his death was accidental or political, since he was known to be supportive of the Chicano movement. Ruiz’s photographs of the incident are included in the show.

Luis Garza went on to become a television writer, producer and director, making documentaries for several television stations, including KABC-TV Channel 7. Surveying the Autry exhibition this afternoon, he says wistfully, “This project here has brought me full circuit, I’ve returned back to my roots.”


La Raza runs through Feb. 10, 2019, at the Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park. Museum and Autry store hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 7); closed Monday. Admission costs $14, $10 for students and seniors 60 and over and $6 for children 3 to 12; free for members and children under 3. Call (323) 667-2000 or visit theautry.org.

Palm Desert’s charms make it a favorite getaway for Southern Californians.

More desert tourists are becoming art browsers and shoppers thanks to Desert X, the widely-publicized, site-specific outdoor art exhibition that ran for two months ending April 30. In its last few weeks, Desert X overlapped with the blockbuster Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which boasts its own art installations on the grounds of its Empire Polo Club venue. However, there is art to see year-round in the Coachella Valley, particularly in posh Palm Desert. And while you’re in the neighborhood, you can sample some of the town’s other attractions, from golf to giraffes.

Browse or Buy Art

Palm Desert is an affluent town, and along and around El Paseo, a milelong shopping street, dozens of art galleries are tucked in among high-end retail stores. The larger ones include Imago, Melissa Morgan, Coda and Hohmann. One of the best, Heather James Fine Art, is a little farther afield, on Portola Avenue, off the east end of El Paseo. It’s a whole building unto itself, with various spaces usually dedicated to certain collections, artists or themes. “We like to have our shows look curated,” says gallery staffer Montana Beutler. At any given time, Heather James shows include works of blue-chip international artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, as well as American favorites such as Norman Rockwell and the California Impressionists.

There’s also public art on El Paseo and sprinkled throughout Palm Desert, thanks to the city’s Public Art Program established in 1986. That year the City of Palm Desert became the first in Riverside County to pass a public art ordinance, which requires real estate developers to integrate artwork into their developments or pay a fee to the Art in Public Places fund.

“There are over 150 pieces of art throughout the city,” says Deborah S. Glickman, who helps run Palm Desert’s public art program. “There’s a map that can be downloaded, and we do also offer free walking tours on the weekends.” Those tours are available on select Saturdays September through May. Private tours for three or more people can also be arranged. Glickman adds that the city produces the biennial El Paseo Exhibition, which places artwork in the El Paseo shopping district, “and we have artists who participate from all over the world.”

For information about Palm Desert’s Public Art Program (including tours, maps and film series), visit palm-desert.org/arts-entertainment/public-art.

The Sporting Life

Of course the area offers other attractions — great golfing (natch!), tennis, swimming, fine dining and wonderful hotels. Quite a few hotels — like the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa and the La Quinta Resort and Club — have their own golf courses, swimming pools and spas. From the Marriott spa, for example, you can lounge in the sun after your treatment of choice, and have a gorgeous view of the greens. If you prefer an Old World flavor, check out the historic La Quinta Resort and Club with its sprawling but well-maintained complex in Spanish Revival style. Its charming casitas open onto swimming pools in cozy compounds; there are 41 pools in all, plus five award-winning golf courses and 41 tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, golf is one of the main attractions here, and not to worry if your hotel doesn’t have its own links; you can always play at other courses or check out the city-run, world-class Desert Willow Golf Resort (desertwillow.com). It offers two fields of play — the Firecliff golf course and the Mountain View course, both roughly 20 years old and designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and PGA Tour pro John Cook. Eric Johnson did the landscaping with many drought-resistant species. Meanwhile, the water used to keep the greens green is being recycled, important in drought-prone California. For meals and drinks, there’s a clubhouse with views of the greens against the backdrop of the gorgeous Santa Rosa Mountains. Desert Willows will probably be the most well-appointed public course you’ve ever visited — it was for me.

Commune with Nature

As a vivid reminder that Palm Desertites are denizens of the desert — the Colorado Desert, specifically — you might want to visit The Living Desert (livingdesert.org), a combination desert, botanical garden and zoo on 1,200 acres — 1,000 of them pristine. No, not all the animals are native, though most of them do inhabit savanna and desert. One can easily spend half a day here, walking through various exhibitions and listening to experts.

There are a few things not to miss, so make sure to check the daily schedule. The giraffe feeding gives you a chance to look at a giraffe up close; visitors can even climb a platform to see giraffes eye to eye. Yes, they have very beautiful big eyes with long lashes, and also long black tongues to lap up the special snack you can buy for them. The Cheetah Run showcases the world’s fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. Here cheetahs show their stuff, running from one end of their long enclosure to the other. And do visit the Butterfly/Winged Wonders exhibit in its own building, featuring hundreds of butterflies from 30 species.

For a deeper excursion into nature, take a tour of the San Andreas Fault. Desert Adventure Red Jeep Tours & Events (https://red-jeep.com/) runs a fleet of, yes, red jeeps (CJ-8 Jeep Scramblers) that are open-topped; passengers pile in the back while the driver doubles as a guide. These guys are seasoned pros (I say “guys” because I only saw gents doing the job), and ours told us not only about the geology of the San Andreas Fault, but also about the area’s native plants and animals. And I learned quite a bit from him about the Cahuilla Indians, who used various plants for food, medicine and shelter.

To illustrate the geology of the San Andreas Fault, our guide, Black Feather, held up an Oreo cookie. He squeezed the two dark biscuits together, very hard, until the white filling got pressed out around the rim. The fault, he told us, is the result of two geological plates — the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate — coming together and moving in different directions. Then he says, with proper drama, “We’re going to drive about a mile into the delicious white cream.”

It’s a strange analogy, since things don’t really get squeezed out when there’s a tectonic plate shift — they fall in. Which is what we saw as we traveled into a private preserve, bumping up and down on our course down dusty roads and into a canyon. The fault creates cracks and crevices, which align with underground aquifers. There are places where you can see the jagged faultline running across the land, defined by a line of live palms and vegetation because of those aquifers. One of the most interesting stops was an oasis, where the earth had caved in during a particularly violent shift and become a refuge for a jumble of palms and bushes.

Incidentally, Black Feather was only a nom de guide, so to speak — our guide’s real name was Darrell Eisman, and he hailed from New York City. Apparently, all the guides adopt Native American–sounding names. We learned a lot from Darrell, not only about geology, but about the plants and animals that live in this part of the desert. Red Jeep also offers tours to Indian Canyons and Joshua Tree National Park. Enjoy the ride!

 

Putting a Fresh Face on the Past

Two Pasadena cultural landmarks have been partly renovated as they head into their second century.

Like many grande dames, two cultural landmarks in Old Pasadena — the Castle Green bridge and the Pasadena Playhouse lobby and stage — have recently undergone a bit of a facelift. You can check out the refreshed theater the next time you see a play; you can see the bridge for yourself during Castle Green’s Mother’s Day open house and tour — if you’re not fortunate enough to know a resident there.

CASTLE GREEN BRIDGE

Around the turn of the 20th century, Pasadena was a popular destination for affluent visitors wanting to escape winters in the East and Midwest, and in 1893 developer George Gill Green built the luxurious Hotel Green on the east side of Raymond Avenue. The destination was so popular that the hotel soon expanded, and a second complex was built across the street, which became known as Castle Green. Today Castle Green is the only phase of the development that remains intact after Hotel Green was largely dismantled and replaced by Stats Floral, which still houses part of the lobby.

The Castle, an architectural mix of Moorish, Spanish and Victorian elements, was converted into apartments in 1924, says architect and architectural historian Bill Ellinger, who will be a bridge docent during the May tour. “They added kitchens, added bathrooms to serve each apartment,” he says. “They’re so different, from small studios to the tower units,” says Susan Futterman, chair of the Friends of Castle Green, which is hosting the Mother’s Day event; visitors will be able to see the grand lobby with its Moorish and Turkish sitting rooms, plus about a dozen apartments and the enclosed bridge that used to connect Castle Green to the Hotel Green across Raymond Avenue.

Today the bridge juts out perpendicularly from the building toward Raymond but stops at the sidewalk — the other half having been taken down some time ago — and it has been undergoing much-needed repairs and updating. It is a wide corridor lined with windows and a tower at the end, and has at various times been home to several artists, as well as a private bookstore. In the 1960s the noted African-American artist Charles Wilbert White used it as studio, as did director Tim Burton and Pasadena artist Kenton Nelson, separately, later on.

The tower’s window frames were recently restored by Mary Gandsey, who stripped, repaired and shellacked the wood. The wainscot panels propped on the floor against the wall await remounting — they’re made of slate painted to look like marble, a feature apparent throughout the building, Ellinger says. The old floor covering has been taken up, revealing a set of small-gauge tracks running the length of the bridge. What were they used for? There’s a clue in a charming news blurb from the inaugural issue of Sunset magazine in May 1898, which begins, “The aristocratic residence town of Southern California and rendezvous for the traveling upper ten has enjoyed a remarkably gay season and the hotel accommodations have been sorely taxed.” It then mentions the Hotel Green and its new addition — the bridge. “The Hotel Green has an annex under construction which will be completed about July 1st and one hundred additional rooms will be added to the La Pintoresca during the summer which will relieve the pressure next season.

“The Hotel Green annex will be connected with the main building across the street by a covered archway forming a charming promenade and furnished with a miniature trolley car which will convey guests to and from the office.” That was certainly a much-appreciated amenity after the long trip from back East.

The tour runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Advance tickets cost $30 and are available at brownpapertickets.com/event/2891231; on tour day they’re $35 at the gate.  The tour plus a Mother’s Day tea at noon go for $85 and tickets must be purchased in advance on the website. Proceeds benefit Castle Green preservation.

PASADENA PLAYHOUSE

Meanwhile, a few blocks away on El Molino Avenue, the Pasadena Playhouse has been undergoing its own renovations. That’s thanks to a special allocation from the State of California, part of a measure authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) because of the playhouse’s special status as the State Theater of the California, an official honor bestowed in 1937. The funds have been used for some much-needed repairs and upgrades, such as new lobby lighting and a new stage floor, as well as an overall lobby redesign. 

“As our productions have grown larger and larger, the stage itself needed to be rebuilt to accommodate that,” says Joe Witt, the theater’s general manager. Many layers of the old flooring were torn out, says Brad Enlow, the theater’s technical director, as he pries away a bit of paneling from the side of the stage to show what’s underneath. Workers installed four new layers, starting with one made of marine-grade tongue-and-groove plywood, topped with two layers of marine-grade plywood and finished with Masonite. “That adds a tensile strength that will take the weight that we require,” he says. He mentions the 2016 production of Casa Valentina, which “had a two-story house that rotated 360 degrees up and down the stage. That was 18,000 pounds, and we had to engineer around it.”

The interior designer hired to redo the lobby is Rozalynn Woods, who says, “The building is Spanish Colonial Revival, built in 1925, and we wanted to do things in keeping with that style.”  She quickly saw that the wall-to-wall carpeting had worn down, and the mustardy color of the paint seemed too dark. So she ordered wide-planked oak for the flooring, typical of the 1920s, and had the walls repainted a creamy white. “Just by doing those two things we were able to create a fresh, bright and welcoming space,” she says in a telephone interview. To make the area even more welcoming, a sitting area was added where the reception counter used to be. Two loveseats face each other across a low table, and behind the table is a console — a 19th-century Spanish antique.

Various elements in the lobby remind visitors of the theater’s long and celebrated history. On the landing of the two staircases leading up to the balcony are oil portraits of Pasadena Playhouse founder Gilmore Brown. The wall facing visitors as they enter boasts six vertical banners, adorned with a selection of past hit plays and historical photographs, including one of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett in the 2006 production of August Wilson’s Fences and another of Mary Bridget Davies in A Night with Janis Joplin from 2015.

A particularly significant oil painting hangs nearby, over the Spanish console. It shows the jubilant crowd in front of the Pasadena Playhouse on opening day, and it was painted by the architect Elmer Grey himself. After years hanging in the playhouse’s library, where it was seldom seen by the general public, Grey’s work now has its proper pride of place.

Art is a Risky Investment

Here are a few pointers for aspiring collectors who want to take the plunge.

We might fantasize that art is the perfect investment — buy something you love by an emerging artist, live with it for years and then sell it to make a small fortune on your foresight.

“One of my clients acquired two Helen Frankenthaler paintings in 1966, large paintings, and he bought them for $2,500 each,” says Culver City art dealer Edward Cella. “We helped him sell one for $700,000 and the other for more than that. The collector knew what he was looking for – Frankenthaler was already well known by then; she was an important emerging woman artist.” Indeed, by 1964 she had already been included in Clement Greenberg’s landmark LACMA show, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and she continued to work and exhibit; today she’s recognized as a major contributor in the history of postwar American art.

But, like most dealers, Cella cautions against expecting an art purchase to yield such a big return on your money — there are too many variables, including the artist’s career and reputation and the unpredictable art market in general.

For most people, buying art is a luxury. It’s true, you may be able to buy work for a few hundred dollars from small galleries or weekend art fairs, and anyone familiar with Antiques Roadshow on PBS has seen the lucky few who made lucrative finds in their grand-aunt’s attic or at a flea market. If you watch the show enough, however, you also know that some objects just aren’t worth as much as people expect, or they’re only worth a fraction of the going value, due to their poor condition or questionable provenance.

The art dealers interviewed for this story suggest that investment-grade art will probably cost in the thousands, and the buyer must be prepared not to get the money back when it comes time to sell. Although Citibank and some private dealers see art as an “asset class” like stocks and bonds, many question this idea. Most agree that investing in art is risky business.

One can buy wisely, however, writes Alan Bamberger, a San Francisco–based art consultant and author of The Art of Buying Art (Gordon’s Art Reference; 2002), on his website, artbusiness.com. “Anyone can buy and collect art intelligently … All you need is a love and appreciation of fine art, a desire to collect and a willingness to familiarize yourself with a few simple techniques that will allow you to assess and evaluate any work of art dating from any time period by any artist of any nationality.”

Bamberger proposes a set of questions for the potential buyer to consider, namely:

“Who is the artist?

“How significant is the art?

“What is the art’s provenance, history and documentation (or more simply, where has the art been and who’s owned it)?

“Is the asking price fair?”

This overlaps with advice the Los Angeles gallerists offered aspiring buyers: Begin with research, research and more research — going to museums, galleries and art fairs, and reading up on artists whose work you like. “The best thing an individual can do is to establish an aesthetic and an awareness of what exists,” says Jack Rutberg, who has been running his La Brea gallery for over 35 years and specializes in some blue-chip artists. “Spend time in museums. It really is important to look at the Old Masters, all the way through to the modern and contemporary artists. The Norton Simon Museum is probably the greatest tutor one could have — you could start with the South and Southeast Asian art, then the Old Masters such as Cranach, Memling, just look at the remarkable hand.”

Blue-chip artists are stars whose works can command six-figures-plus (think Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Agnes Martin, David Hockney). Like blue-chip stocks, they are pricy, but in a category that makes higher returns more likely when you are ready to sell them after a decade or more. “If a high priority is that the artwork retains value,” says Elizabeth East, a director at the prestigious L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, “I suggest focusing on well-established artists with solid track records, like David Hockney. But there is never any guarantee.”

Of course, few of us can afford to buy those artists. So is it possible to put together a modestly priced art collection and expect its value to eventually increase?

Two areas often recommended for beginning collectors are prints and photographs. Since these works are produced in multiples, they are less expensive than one-of-a-kind art. Some of the same evaluation criteria hold, however, such as the condition of specific works by artists of reputation (those reviewed or featured in major publications, collected by museums, shown at biennials, etc.). With prints and photographs, it is recommended that you look for signed works in small, limited editions. Works produced in the thousands, for example, will generally be worth less than works by the same artist produced in an edition of 100 or fewer.

“In my exhibition, Surreal/Unreal [through Feb. 18], I have over 100 works, and every one would be worthy of a museum collection,” says Rutberg. “They range from $350 to over a million.” He points out that there are many things in the show under $2,000, including works by Giorgio de Chirico and Roberto Matta, one of the last to join the Surrealists. Cella suggested looking at the photographs of Pedro Guerrero, a principal photographer for Frank Lloyd Wright. Guerrero was the subject of a PBS American Masters documentary in 2015, and Cella’s current show, Guerrero: Calder & Nevelson, In Their Studios (through March 4), features photographs he took in the studios of artists Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.

It is important to determine the condition of the work and its provenance (origin or previous ownership). A reputable dealer can provide information about the artist’s background and track record and can vouch for the authenticity and source of the work. Sometimes artists do sell their own work, and the Photo Independent Art Fair was established in L.A. in 2014 to provide a venue for that. This year the fair takes place April 21 through 23 at The Reef in downtown L.A. Photographers have also sold their own work at another local fair, Photo L.A., which falls in January, although most exhibitors are galleries. Answering Bamberger’s question No. 4 — is the asking price fair? — can be particularly challenging. After gathering information about an artist you’re considering, you’ll want to look at comparable sales for that person’s work. You can do this online, and study databases on auction houses’ websites, or on artnet.com, blouinartinfo.com and artprice.com. Some sites require a subscription — for example, the Blouin Art Sales Index charges $39 a month or $199 for a year of access. On artnet.com you can search without a subscription for works currently for sale, although you often will see the note “price on request.”

Those with very large amounts to invest might want to look into services offered by specialized fund managers, such as Citibank’s Private Bank Art Advisory & Finance group. Its website says, “Our art advisors can guide you through the art world, providing personalized acquisition and selling strategies, as well as collection management services.” But even Citi, in the smaller print, offers the disclaimer, “Alternative assets such as art are speculative, may not be suitable for all clients and are intended for those who are willing to bear high economic risks.”

In the end, collectors and dealers share this mantra: Buy what you love. Then, whether or not the work appreciates in monetary value, you will still have it gracing your wall, enhancing your quality of life. “Perhaps the best return you can achieve from art,” says East, “is the enjoyment it gives you over time.”

Ring-a-Ding-Bling!

Lois Boardman’s unusual jewelry collection forms an unusual show at LACMA.

 

It’s very unusual for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to feature a jewelry collection, but this is no usual collection. As the exhibition title suggests, Beyond Bling: Jewelry from the Lois Boardman Collection (through Feb. 5, 2017) takes us into another dimension of jewelry: it’s still wearable body decoration — you can put it on your finger or around your neck — but the 50 pieces here veer into the realms of sculpture and conceptual art, and are testament to the continuing ingenuity of artists. They are part of a gift of 300 pieces of studio jewelry to the museum by Lois Boardman, a longtime resident of South Pasadena and a dedicated patron of the arts in SoCal. 

Three years ago Boardman contacted LACMA’s Decorative Arts and Design Department, saying she was interested in donating her collection. Rosie Chambers Mills and Bobbye Tigerman, associate curators in the department, came to visit her. “We were sitting in her kitchen, and she brought out 20 or 30 pieces,” Tigerman recalls. “We were blown away. These were large and bold and not what you think about when you think about jewelry. They often have a personal or political message through the use of the material.”

Boardman and her husband, Bob, have lived in an old Spanish-style house in a quiet residential neighborhood for over half a century. It’s a house full of art — much of it colorful and whimsical. There are pieces of American folk art and contemporary ceramics by such well-known artists as Ralph Bacerra, Peter Shire and John Mason. During night classes at Chouinard Art Institute (long since merged into CalArts), Boardman studied ceramics under the charismatic Bacerra and even had her own studio behind the house. She also served as a member of LACMA’s Decorative Arts Council (now the Decorative Arts and Design Council).

Boardman says her jewelry habit was sparked by her friendship with gallerist Helen Drutt. In the early 1980s, they were both part of the National Task Force in the Crafts, a project initiated by the late Eudorah Moore (a longtime curator of the Pasadena Arts Museum — now the Norton Simon) on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts. Boardman and Drutt, owner of an eponymous crafts and jewelry gallery in Philadelphia, traveled together on fact-finding trips for the task force. “She kept wearing all this stuff, all this jewelry,” Boardman recalls, sitting at the kitchen table. Her pieces were one-of-a-kind, and Boardman became so intrigued she began buying pieces from the Helen Drutt Gallery (since closed) and meeting the artists who made them. “I just thought it was fun,” says Boardman offhandedly. “I got into it, this was studio jewelry. Helen guided me for a long period of time.”

“Studio jewelry” is the term coined to describe original jewelry handcrafted by an artist in his/her workshop. According to Mills and Tigerman, writing in the exhibition catalog, contemporary studio jewelry emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, in several locations — mainly the U. S., the Netherlands, Germany and Britain, all represented in the show. The exhibition title uses the catchy term “bling,” which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “ostentatious jewellery.” The selection is certainly eye-catching.

Beyond Bling, in a gallery off the upper entrance to the Ahmanson Building, has proved unexpectedly popular with audiences of all ages. The rings and brooches are, of course, on the small side and must be examined at close range. Other pieces are large and bold and in your face — the very definition of “bling.” Many seem to carry a larger message than decoration — social, cultural and political transgression being one of the hallmarks of contemporary art. Take Nancy Worden’s Gilding the Past: it’s a necklace made up of gilded bone shapes (based on a chicken bone, says Tigerman) and looks rather like a necklace for a witch doctor. Closer examination, however, reveals medallions of the peace sign and the smiley face — carved from Kennedy half-dollar coins — interspersed between the bones. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Worden was active in antiwar protests during the Vietnam era. The piece questions wars (the bones being a stark reminder of death) and the “gilded” sheen we put on them.

Other unexpected materials in these display cases include plastics, textiles and feathers. One highlight is a necklace made with Lego pieces — emiko oye’s Maharajah’s 6th is white, black and acid green — a series of white Lego bricks with black end pieces and a large multicolored medallion that drapes in the front. “When people look at it, it reminds them of outer space, the future,” says Tigerman, “but in reality, she was trying to replicate this 1928 piece made by Boucheron for a maharaja.” Quite a few children come into this exhibition and hover around this piece, probably wondering what they could do with their own Lego sets — if they are lucky enough to have one.  

A tour de force of craftsmanship is Gesine Hackenberg’s Delft Blue ‘Plooischotel’, made from a blue-and-white Royal Delft platter. (Fear not, it’s not antique — it was made in 1943.) Round pieces of varying sizes have been meticulously cut out of the rim and the base, and then strung together to make a necklace. The necklace is shown with the platter, illustrating how the pieces could fit back in. Boardman admits she didn’t set out with an agenda or checklist when she started collecting, but rather relied on her own taste. “The idea of it was terrific,” she replies, as to why she bought the Hackenberg piece.   

One piece breaks the rules on the body part it adorns: Die Goldene Nase Nosepiece by Gerd Rothmann was commissioned by Boardman in 1988. It is taken from a mold of her own nose and is worn atop the nose, like a prosthesis. The piece is also a bit of a visual pun, a play on the German phrase “to earn a golden nose,” which means “to make a fortune.” Did she ever actually wear it in public?  “I did, a few times,” says Boardman with a chuckle. “Though it’s interesting, a lot of people would avert their eyes when they saw me. You know, they thought I might be missing a real nose or something.”  


Beyond Bling: The Lois Boardman Collection runs through Feb. 4, 2017 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Museum admission costs $15, $10 for seniors and students; free for members and youth 17 and under. Visit lacma.org.