Art & Nature Raises the Bar

Changes in the sun’s position remade Phillip K. Smith III’s “1/4 Mile Arc” at Main Beach by the hour. Photos by Mitch Ridder.
Changes in the sun’s position remade Phillip K. Smith III’s “1/4 Mile Arc” at Main Beach by the hour. Photos by Jody Tiongco

Slender and 10-feet tall, the four-sided posts shone in the sunlight, reflecting the moods of the ocean and hillsides and at evening dramatically mirrored cloud banks and at least one brilliant sunset. Come darkness, they mirrored staccato bursts of light coming from car headlights moving south on Coast Highway. All the while, people touched the shiny stainless steel and took selfies.

Bringing to mind sentries between land and sea, they comprised “1/4 Mile Arc,” an environmental installation created by Palm Desert-based artist Phillip K. Smith III.

As in the previous three years, the Laguna Art Museum had commissioned a special work of art to highlight its Art and Nature festival, exploring bridges between art and science and the inspiring ambience of the Laguna Beach coastline.

Grace Puffer emerges between the columns.
Grace Puffer emerges between the columns. Photos by Mitch Ridder

“When you look before and behind the posts, you see everything surround you. I felt compelled to run and dance between them because that made me feel so happy, like a 4-year-old,” said Laguna Beach artist Olivia Batchelder.

Other artists visiting the Main Beach installation appreciated the work as a novel piece of public art. “I wish it could stay longer,” was a refrain echoed by a range of visitors, along with questions why the city of Laguna Beach could not make room for temporary public art more often.

The project was a museum initiative in which the city only participated by granting necessary permits, museum Executive Director Malcolm Warner explained.

ridder_phillip_k_smith_iii_art_and_nature_11-5-16_9500   Arts Commission member Suzi Chauvel visited several times with sunrise being her favorite. “With everything reflecting, the piece is enhanced by conditions of the moment and people’s interaction with it,” she said. “The posts are like soldiers of opinion marching down the beach.”

One man, only willing to identify himself as a resident, detected political overtones in the columns. “It’s a critique of the ‘I’ll build a wall’ mentality, of its futility and pointlessness,” he said.

Another resident, Mansour Elseify, saw only its aesthetic impact. “It stinks. People come here to see the beauty of the ocean. Art like this belongs in a museum,” he said. “It just looks like a wall; when you stand in one place, you see nothing.”

ridder_phillip_k_smith_iii_quarter_mile_arc_11-5-16_9497Watercolor artist Ann Maslyn found the reflections fascinating. “You don’t have to understand art like this, just enjoy it,” said the Irvine resident.

Another local, Ken Kleinberg, admitted, “so far I’ve been caught in the vanity of the project. I have been taking pictures of myself reflected in it.”

Altogether, the installation entertained an estimated 12,000 visitors.

Over three days, Art and Nature included several complementary events. A lecture by Smith illuminated his museum installation “Bent Parallel.” Gallerist Peter Blake interviewed light and space artist Helen Pashgian, whose work is included in the museum exhibition and on display at Blake’s gallery. A sound performance, “ ‘I’ lighthouse waiting for storms” by XiuXiu (David Horovitz and Jamie Stewart) inundated the museum and sent the uninitiated into flight.

ridder_phillip_k_smith_iii_quarter_mile_arc_art_and_nature_11-5-16_9797“We wanted to give the artists space to be creative, so we gave David and Jamie the museum as a musical instrument,” said Warner.

The keynote lecture by British art historian Martin Kemp drew lines between Leonardo daVinci’s Mona Lisa and the artist-scientist’s exploration of human anatomy.

Using the painting of the Mona Lisa as a take-off, he delved into the anatomy of the human eye, drew analogies between the life giving qualities of water and the human blood stream and daVinci drawings of an oxen’s heart, thus illuminating the legendary Italian as a link between art, nature and science. In reference to the painting’s background, the audience also learned about medieval Italian politics and the importance of water in Florence and Pisa.

ridder_phillip_k_smith_iii_quarter_mile_arc_art_and_nature_11-5-16_9810   The age-old mystery behind the Mona Lisa herself received short shrift, save for when Kemp described her as the epoch’s embodiment of ideal womanhood. The most fascinating revelation was a digitally created image of what the painting looked like when it was first done, before the addition of multitudinous layers of varnish.

Sunday brought the accustomed hands-on family friendly fare tailored to bring the next generations into the arts.

“It was so encouraging to watch the crowds of people interacting with Phillip’s beautiful installation, the standing room only audience for Leonardo da Vinci expert Martin Kemp and all the kids making art inspired by nature at the family festival.

ridder_phillip_k_smith_iii_quarter_mile_arc_art_and_nature_11-6-16_9816“We are not looking to change the format for next year. The challenge is frankly that we set the bar so high,” wrote Warner.ridder_phillip_k_smith_iii_quarter_mile_arc_art_andnature_11-5-16_9667




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