Ferdinand Deppe’s “San Gabriel Mission” painting is part of the Laguna Art Museum’s permanent collection and had been shown on several occasions. Now, it hangs in renewed spotlight as an integral part of the museum’s new exhibition titled “California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930,” on view through Jan. 14.
Comprised of paintings, posters, artifacts and etchings, the exhibition curated by Katherine Manthorne offers a stunning portrayal of California as it transitioned, not easily or peacefully but intriguingly, from a part of Mexico to the 31st state in the union.
With its emphasis on the symbiotic relationship and history between Mexico and California, the show has also been included into this year’s LA/LA Pacific Standard Time roster of region-wide exhibitions and programs sponsored by the Getty Foundation to the tune of $ 8.5 million.
LAM alone received $92,000 for research support in 2013 and implementation and publication support of $230,000 in 2015. The catalog accompanying the show is praiseworthy.
“Artistic and cultural exchange between California and Mexico has flourished since Alta California was the northernmost of the United States of Mexico. Our exhibition, “California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930,” highlights this vital aspect of the state’s history through a panorama of works by artists on both sides of the border, from scenes of mission and rancho life through images of romantic Old California to the emergence of a cross-border modern art scene. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in California history, California art, or California’s Latin American heritage,” wrote LAM executive director, Malcolm Warner.
One hopes that schools will send students by the busload since history in traditional written form can be a bit abstract, even yawn inducing. Not here.
On the outside at least, depictions of California missions follow similar architectural and visual norms. Set against a desert or mountainous background, church structures replete with bell towers tend toward the majestic while adjacent structures are flat roofed and somewhat utilitarian by comparison. What makes depictions such as the San Gabriel Mission interesting are the activities surrounding them. Here they include an indigenous family living in a straw teepee structure and men tending horses and cattle.
The museum’s mezzanine contains a series of enlarged postcards by an unknown artist titled “The Mission Play” which gives an idea of life surrounding the missions and the absolute power of the priests and monks who ran them. Consider titles like “First Indian Baptism,” “The Procession” and “Excommunication of the Comandante.”
The missions’ purpose was bolstered by religious art created to inspire reverence for Catholic saints, some of which are not likely widely known, while “The Virgin of Sorrows” will speak to any Christian.
Some paintings have journalistic flair: Richard Caton Woodville’s “War News from Mexico,” 1849 with its group of men poring over a front page, the wonder of the Grayson family first arriving in “The Promised Land,” as seen by William S. Jewett, depictions of elegant Vaqueros driving cattle (“Mexican Cattle Drivers in Southern California,” 1883,) Henry Bacon’s “The Luck of the Roaring Camp,” 1880) and the engaging “La Plaza de Toros: Sunday Morning in Monterrey” by Charles Christian Nahl. What makes the scenario interesting is that it is racially and culturally integrated. All are busy enjoying their only day of rest.
Scroll to the 1920s and 30s, and we see how the Mexican community has enriched the Los Angeles art world. The exhibition includes a 1923 portrait of Diego Rivera and several other portraits of prominent arts figures by Edward Weston.
Rivera, an internationally prominent painter and muralist, is represented here by the Fresco “Allegory of California, 1931.”
“Given that you can’t move a mural painted directly onto a wall, we thought we’d go for the next best thing! It gives a sense of the sheer size, and we have Rivera’s original preparatory drawing right in front so you can see what he changed and what stayed the same as he painted his composition on a grand scale. It’s the perfect subject for our theme–an “Allegory of California.” How interesting that in 1930 a Mexican artist was commissioned to paint a summing-up of what makes California Californian,” wrote Warner.
It’s noteworthy that Warner began his directorship of the museum six years ago, shortly before the PST that just happened to focus on California art, which is also LAM’s mission.
“It was the best refresher course for me as I took up my new job,” he recalled.
The museum then also had its own PST exhibition: “Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971.”
Pacific Standard Time Orange County venues.
“Emigdio Vasques and the Proletariado de Aztlán.”
Mural by Vasques, creator of 22 public mural in O.C. between 1876 and 2006.
Chapman University, through Jan. 31. Also, exhibits at Argyros Forum, Henley Galleria and Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University. chapman.edu/arts/pacific-standard-time.aspx.
“Aztlán.to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert ‘Magu’ Luján.”
Major retrospective of the Chicano artist who founded the collective “The Four,” major chroniclers of Chicano culture. Luján is known for his colorful animated representations and well as references to “Aztlán,” homeland of the Aztecs and for “Magulandia” a term he coined for the space he lived and worked in.
Through Dec. 17, UC Irvine. uag.arts.uci.edu
“Deconstructing Liberty: A Destiny Manifested.”
A group show by 14 Latin American Artists from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela addressing American themes such as patriotism, liberty and citizenship.
Through Dec. 15, Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center, Anaheim. www.museo.org
“California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930.”
Mexican and California culture explored through paintings and historic works of art. Also “Dan McCleary: Prints from Oaxaca.”
Through Jan. 14. Laguna Art Museum. www.lagunaartmuseum.org
“Descendants and Dissonance: Cultural Iconography in Contemporary LA.” Social commentary by LA Chicano artists Oscar Magellanes, Linda Vallejo, and Sonia Romero. The exhibition correlates with the exhibition” How to Read El Pato Pascual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney and The Making of the Modern: Indigenismo, 1800-2015” at the San Diego Museum of Art. Also, “Outer Space,” new paintings by Sarah Keliher Walsh. Salt Fine Art is the only Laguna Beach gallery participating in PST. www.saltfineart.com