An immersive art experience begins for visitors to the Laguna Art Museum as they enter its lobby, temporarily transformed by artist Megan Geckler using colorful construction materials and continues inside with the FriendsWithYou collective spreading their message of magic, luck and friendship in site specific spots.
The installations, a sneak peek of fall’s Art and Nature series and previews of works to be offered at next month’s art auction await ticket holders to the centennial bash at the Laguna Art Museum on Saturday, Jan 27.
The celebration kicks off a year’s worth of special events marking the 100th year of one of the county’s oldest cultural institutions.
“Laguna Art Museum is the strongest it’s been since its founding as the Laguna Art Association in 1918,” Robert Hayden III, the museum’s former board chair, said in an email.
“We’re punching above our weight,” said executive director Malcolm Warner. “I believe that the exhibition we just closed, ‘California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930,’ would have been a credit to any museum in the country, great or small, and our retrospective of the work of Helen Lundeberg in 2016 had a rave review in the Wall Street Journal.”
The museum grew out of the Laguna Art Association, which got its start after an exhibition of 25 works by Laguna Beach artists that included Edgar Payne and Anna Hills. The display was mounted in a small board-and-batten cottage near the Laguna Beach Hotel. It later became a gallery where local artists showed their work and a venue for art classes. Payne was elected the Association’s first president in 1920.
By 1929 Myron Hunt was commissioned to design a gallery to be built on the museum’s present site. Hills is credited with the fundraising effort that made building the new, fire-proof gallery possible.
As the Art Association began to receive donations from the heirs of artists who came to Laguna at the turn of the 20th century, including a gift in 1948 from the estate of artist Frank Cuprien, another fundraising campaign was mounted to enlarge the gallery space. With a larger building and a growing permanent collection, the Art Association began to operate more as a museum and eventually evolved into the Laguna Beach Museum of Art in 1972.
At the same time, collectors began donating to the museum and its leaders began to focus on exhibitions of important California artists and movements.
“The museum has a history of groundbreaking scholarship on the art of California,” Hayden said. “The museum’s permanent art collection spans the history of the state and has stellar examples from almost all periods.”
A rocky period for the museum came in 1996 in the form of a proposed merger with the Newport Harbor Art Museum to create the Orange County Museum of Art. Members of the Laguna Art Museum opposed the plan, which fell apart a year later.
Hired just two years after the merger collapsed, curator Tyler Stallings recalls his time at the museum as one of “one of tremendous enthusiasm and energy.” Stallings worked under the then newly hired director Bolton Colburn and helped curate what he described as groundbreaking exhibitions such as “Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing,” “Whiteness, A Wayward Construction,” and several historical shows about California Impressionism. Those shows travelled to other museums, which raised Laguna Art Museum’s profile on the national level, Stallings said.
When Colburn resigned in 2011 the museum was facing fundraising challenges exacerbated by the 2008 economic downturn, said Hayden, who offered to serve pro bono as interim director.
Warner, who was hired in 2012, “has increased the level of professionalism, grown the museum’s budget and its fundraising capacity, and made the museum an integral part of the community by expanding programming,” Hayden said.
Former curator Grace Kook Anderson, who worked with both Colburn and Warner, takes in the broad picture when describing the museum. “What I am excited to see is the thread of consistency that has bound the institution together all these years,” said Kook Anderson, Portland Art Museum’s curator of Northwest art.
Every Thursday offers evidence of the Laguna museum’s expanded programming. “We stay open late for an event or program–whether it’s Art Walk, a music concert with Laguna Beach Live!, a film night, an art lecture, or a presentation by an artist. And, our education department goes from strength to strength, with a family art studio every month and more and more school group visits,” Warner said.
Upcoming exhibits in the centennial year include a Tony DeLap retrospective, the exhibit “Art Colony: The Laguna Beach Art Association, 1918-1935,” which Warner describes as “a best-of-the-best collection of works by our founders,” and the Art and Nature festival.
While Warner says nothing is guaranteed, he hopes “Seascape” by Pablo Vargas Lugo, put on hold for review by the Coastal Commission last year, may make an appearance. “It would be great to be able to install it for Art & Nature 2018. We have longstanding plans to do a performance piece with the artist Elizabeth Turk this year, and the two would go perfectly well together,” Warner said.
Elizabeth Turk’s video presentation and five of her pieces in the museum art auction will be on display at this Saturday’s centennial event.
Another project coming together for April is a documentary film about the museum by Dale Schierholt. (Complete listings below.)
On the horizon as well, some long-overdue improvements to the building and the expansion and remodeling of the galleries on the lower level, thanks to a city grant.
“The look of a museum building, the flow of the spaces, and its general condition has such an effect on the quality of the visitor’s experience. We want to raise those aspects to the high level of the art that we display,” Warner added.
Schedule of Centennial Events
Saturday, Jan. 27
Site-specific installations, live music, craft beer tastings, and more. Tickets are $25 for members, $35 non-members.
Saturday, Feb. 10
Art Auction 2018: California Cool
100 museum-curated works by California artists, live and silent auctions, cuisine and cocktails.
Thursday, April 19
Film Premiere: Laguna Art Museum at 100
The documentary film will chronicle the museum’s history, from its founding as the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1918, its transformation to Laguna Art Museum.
Saturday, Aug. 25
LBAA Birthday Party
To celebrate, the museum will host a free day with art activities, docent tours, and special giveaways.
Saturday, Sept. 29
A one-time exclusive dinner celebrating the museum’s history in grand style with dancing and world-class entertainment, to be held at the Festival of Arts grounds.
Nov. 1 – 4
Art & Nature
Special exhibitions, a commissioned artwork, lectures, discussions, performances, and family activities on the theme of art’s engagement with the natural world.