Laguna Art Museum spotlights the lost art of William Mortensen

Untitled self-portrait as a magician by William Mortensen. Photo courtesy of
Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Art Museum will present “Photography & Seduction: William Mortensen’s Laguna Beach” from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15.

Honoring the Laguna Beach resident, the exhibition will illustrate his trajectory to become one of the most famous photographers of his time.

“We look forward to presenting one of the only museum exhibitions dedicated to the work of the revered and hated William Mortensen,” Museum executive director Julie Perlin Lee said in a press release.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a documentary on Mortensen that’s narrated by Vincent Price.

Photography & Seduction will take museum visitors on a journey through Mortensen’s career from his Hollywood beginnings to his teachings and processes. Mortensen was the first American photographer to create a long-term series of grotesque artwork, using pens, paints, pumice, and razor blades to modify images. Mortensen was eventually drawn to Laguna Beach where he opened a photography school and was often called “The Master” by his students for teachings known as “The Mortensen Method.”

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  1. I am a primary collector of the art of William Mortensen, and this exhibition germinated with extensive and ongoing discussions i had with the gallery’s new director and deputy director beginning in July of 2021, in the context of celebrating the artist’s 125th birthday January 27 of this year.

    I even introduced them to the curator, which bewilders me they did not even know of one another.  

    The curator decided to shut any works from our collection out of the exhibition, an egregious breach of ethics on behalf of both curator and the museum.  The reasons given were absurd, and untrue.

    That the exhibition was titled “the lost art of William Mortensen”  demonstrates how out of touch this museum and curator are, and how they are misrepresenting this great artists legacy in an attempt to heroicise their own sophomoric and trite curatorial efforts. I brought this to their attention in an unanswered letter sent to them, and magically the title was changed. I wont even mention how the Museum attempted to appropriate the title of our recent Burt Shonberg (another part of Laguna Beach’s cultural history neglected by it’s flagship institution) exhibition “Beyond The Pleasuredome: The Lost occult Works of Burt Shonberg”, of which I sent copies of our catalog to the Museum last year.

    Mortensen has enjoyed a massive revival in recent years thanks to our efforts, and those of the late Adam Parfrey of Feral House who published “American Grotesque – The Life and Art of William Mortensen” in 2014, as well as London’s Gallery of Everything which has been perpetuating Mortensen’s art internationally, and the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland – whom have had not one but two solo exhibitions of Mortensen’s art since 2018 and published a beautiful catalog., and have courageously exhibited previously unseen works from our collection, to great acclaim  To categorically ignore these efforts and claim Mortensen’s art is “lost” simply because the curator wishes to received accolades out of profession jealousy for the efforts of others, simply places theirs and the museum’s credibility in a highly questionable place.  

    Mortensen is most highly recognized for his photography in the late 1920’s of occult subject matter, that is what he is most widely known for and certainly the book “American Grotesque” helped perpetuate this legacy, spotlighting the fact that Anton LeVey, founder of the Church of Satan dedicated in large part his “Satanic Bible” to William Mortensen. 

    I will look forward to seeing how, if at all, the curation of this exhibition addresses this aspect if the artist’s oeuvre, or simply tries to pretend it doesn’t exist in s further attempt to homogenize and bestow mediocrity on one of America”s – and history’s – greatest visionary artists’ legacy.

    However a final word of warning. The Museum and “curator are soliciting residents of Laguna Beach to come forward with “any potential Mortensen photographs stored in private collections”. I would HIGHLY advise based on previous experience that anyone who does come forward have their work independently appraised before trusting anyone associated with this exhibition on a valuation for their equity. It’s always a good idea to have a second opinion.

    Stephen Romano.Brooklyn.


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