Once strictly private, museum-style space will open to public with daring art exhibition 

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By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Laguna Beach Independent

A sleek new museum-style exhibition space in the middle of town will debut next week when the public is invited to get a first look at the Honarkar Foundation for Arts & Culture space at 298 Broadway.

Honarkar Foundation for Arts & Culture co-founder Mo Honarkar, curator Genevieve Williams and artist Jorg Dubin at the museum-quality exhibition space that will open to the public on Hospitality Night, Dec. 1 with a show by Dubin. Photo/Barbara McMurray

The gallery will open with the audacious 38-piece solo show “Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s.” The opening reception will be held during Hospitality Night on Friday, Dec. 1, from 5 to 9 p.m. It will also be open on Dec. 7 during First Thursdays Art Walk from 6 to 9 p.m. Visitor hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. Admission is free.

Most recently, the architecturally significant building served as a private exhibition and storage space for the enormous art collection of Gerald E. Buck, a successful Orange County developer. Buck was an avid collector of California art, amassing more than 3,200 works. He extensively renovated the inside of the former post office building, complete with climate controls, exhibition lighting and sliding storage racks. After his death in 2013, his family initiated a gift agreement that entrusted the collection to UC Irvine.

The historic building was built in 1938 in a Mediterranean revival style with stucco siding and a red-tiled gable roof. It is now outfitted with blond wood floors, floating white walls, and a high, handsome, bowstring truss ceiling that showcases the original structure of the building. The 4,200-square-foot space has five exhibition rooms, offices, a kitchen, and three bathrooms. An audio-video setup includes a 12-foot screen that drops from the ceiling in the large main room.

Genevieve Williams, the foundation’s curator, said, “The architectural design is sensitive to the historic nature of the building. It’s been so beautifully done. The interior is a historic shell with a modern, state-of-the-art, museum-quality exhibition space built within it.”

In 2019, as a guest at a private Buck collection showing, entrepreneur and real estate developer Mohammad Honarkar, the foundation’s co-founder, was bowled over less by the art as by the building’s interior.

“I couldn’t believe how beautiful this place was,” Honarkar said. “When a local broker from whom I have purchased other properties called to tell me it was on the market. I said, ‘I’ve got to have this.’ I am always looking for buildings that are sitting empty, then finding ways we can bring them back for the community to enjoy.”

He is currently in escrow to purchase the building.

Dubin said of the new cultural institution, “It’s an asset to the community. Most of us who have been here a long time have never seen the inside of this building. The space is beautiful, the intent is positive – there’s no downside to what’s going on here. The charitable nature of how it has been put together – a nonprofit organization that supports the arts and culture – is all to benefit the community. Any artist who walks in will want to have a show here.”

Dubin is perhaps Laguna’s most challenging and prolific artist. His themes include race, gender, sexuality, politics and power dynamics. Dubin’s bold oil on linen paintings forgoes convention through his unfiltered renderings of contemporary, often subversive, subject matter. The show’s paintings depict social, political, and environmental events and chronicle Dubin’s portraiture work over 20 years. It is the most comprehensive showing of his art to date.

Williams will curate ongoing exhibitions that change every six to eight weeks, highlighting Southern California artists.

“I think the arts scene in Orange County is being revitalized,” she said. “There’s a lot of other galleries opening. We plan to collaborate with museums, including Laguna Art Museum, potentially Orange County Museum of Art, plus other institutions and nonprofits. We plan on getting artworks on loan.”

She added that the Honarkar Foundation will make the space available to other nonprofits. “In the future, we envision film screenings, panel discussions, possible podcasts, created public programming – we are very interested in getting the community involved.”

“Jorg Dubin: Paintings from the 2000s” will be on display through Jan. 14, 2024 at the Honarkar Foundation for Arts & Culture, 298 Broadway. Please note that this exhibition contains adult themes and images of nudity. thehonarkarfoundation.org. 

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