Wait, did Hauser and Wirth or Larry Gagosian just set up shop here? Because it sure felt that way at last Friday’s marvelous Hospitality Night when, upon walking through a side door off a nondescript building on a nondescript section of Broadway, you were swept into an alternate universe – a cavernous, 4,200 square foot, state-of-the-art gallery space with the ultimate in sophisticated exhibition technology.
The one-time post office was converted to a private gallery by previous owner, the late art collector Gerald Buck. But now Mo Honarkar has acquired it and debuted his Honarkar Foundation for Arts & Culture (HFAC). Say what you want about the controversial Mo, but his ability to brush himself off and bounce back – by opening this exquisite space to the public – demonstrates his commitment to doing good in our community. He enlisted gallery owner Peter Blake to assist him with the opening, who in turn brought in his past director Genevieve Williams to helm the space.
And what was on the walls was even more exceptional – the long overdue retrospective of local artist Jorg Dubin’s prodigious figurative work of the 2000s. To see it all in one place is to grasp the enormity of Jorg’s talent. Big, stunning, lush canvasses of predominantly female nudes that could be mistaken for Rubens, except for the contemporary political commentary cleverly embedded in them. His craft is exceptional – thick brushstrokes reminiscent of the 20th century’s greatest portrait artist, Lucien Freud, with a mastery of light and shadow that can only be described as hauntingly beautiful.
Yet, there is purpose and meaning in each of the canvasses that require closer inspection. He calls out hypocrisy in provocative, conceptual pieces that begin with the beautiful female form, but reveal something askew: an expression of women’s rights being stripped away, or the constitution being trampled. His work is anything but exploitative or even decorative, but rather meditations on social, racial, and gender justice. Because, in the end, isn’t it the obligation of those seers and feelers known as artists to reflect back to us the world in ways that penetrate our consciousness and challenge our notions of reality?
You’ve seen Dubin’s versatile work in public art installations around town – a boat sculpted of metal, the transit bus stop canopy, the swirly metal entry gate at Pyne Castle, the entry planter at The Ranch, and his seminal piece, the 9/11 memorial “Semper Memento” (“Never forget”) in Heisler Park. This emotionally charged, yet somber installation composed of girders from the World Trade Center reminds us that we are all part of the building collapse and share in its impact. He’s as patriotic as they come and uses his talent to illuminate the state of our democracy, our freedom, and yes, his pain in seeing it threatened.
You feel it the moment you enter the main room. Here hang some of Jorg’s most provocative works: a forlorn portrait of Abraham Lincoln with his MAGA pin upside down. A woman holding a clothes hanger after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade. And perhaps Jorg’s most compelling political piece, a six by eight foot canvas called “The Orange Stand,” depicting a menacing white police officer with a billy club towering over a cowering Black girl amid the Black Lives Matter protests. She looks utterly defenseless as she is surrounded by armored tanks, tear gas and troops. It is truly a war zone, our contemporary Guernica. And if it doesn’t make you feel your extreme white privilege amidst the toil of being born Black in this country, nothing will.
I hope Jorg one day gets the international recognition he so richly deserves. Until then, he’s all ours, and our community is better for it. So perhaps you should consider commissioning a Jorg Dubin portrait while you can still afford it.
I also hope the Honarkar Foundation will continue to mount challenging shows that are beyond the grasp of our staid Laguna Museum of Art (where Jorg was twice rejected for consideration of this show because it was too risqué). Things look promising with the experienced Williams aboard, who just announced the next show will be a survey of Tony DeLap’s extensive abstract sculptures (and other works) from the 1960s – 2000. And if the city is willing to grant Mo a conditional use permit to use the space for events (even though, like most buildings downtown, there’s no parking), it will be a huge plus for our community. Just as Rick Conkey’s wonderful Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center has become a cultural touchstone and we have the promise of the Rivian showroom, too. Then we will have a triumvirate of creative spaces to uplevel our cultural life in Laguna. And for all your Mo haters out there who will cynically believe this is a PR stunt aimed at rehabilitating his image, I challenge you to do something as philanthropic and valuable for our community. He certainly did not have to do this and open himself up for more scrutiny. But this time, he really has given us a gift.
Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and the host of “Laguna Talks” on KXFM radio – Thursdays at 8 p.m. Email: [email protected].