YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Museum Basking In Spotlight

September 16, 1986|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

No one can accuse the Laguna Art Museum--which officially reopens today after a $1.6-million reconstruction--of acting like a shrinking violet.

The building's new exterior color is stylishly pink--a traffic-stopping, almost glitzy, pink--that hardly fits the museum's longtime image as a staid institution.

Why the exterior splash?

"When we decided to redo our building, we wanted to make it really stand out, to tell people this museum is going places," explained museum director William Otton. "We think we've done just that. It's a bold statement about our future as a more activist institution."

Up to now, the Laguna Art Museum--whose roots date back to the founding of Laguna Beach as an art colony 68 years ago--has been regarded as a provincial little bastion of artistic conservatism.

Now, backers said, the museum aspires to be not only more venturesome but also worthy of regional recognition. (Last fall the name was changed from Laguna Beach Museum of Art to Laguna Art Museum to give the institution a punchier, more regional title.)

And, they added, they're out to strengthen what they view as their exhibiting role among Southern California's museums.

"Our focus is California art, especially Southern California, and we believe this focus will set us apart from most other museums of the region," Otton said.

"No, we're not abandoning our roots in traditional and historical art. But we want to do much more in introducing new and challenging artists and concepts."

Of course, the rebuilding of the museum's 56-year-old, beach-bluff home off Coast Highway is the most obvious change.

Expanded from 9,000 square feet to 19,000, the three-level structure now boasts nine galleries and double the exhibiting space. Storage, exhibit-preparation, office and other areas have been increased, and the lighting, security and other systems updated.

(Today's reopening reception at 6 p.m. is by invitation only. The public reopening is next Tuesday. The museum was closed in April, 1985, for the reconstruction.)

The timing for such expansion, Laguna Art Museum backers said, has never been better: A museum building boom is affecting Orange County as well as Los Angeles County.

Consider the Newport Harbor Art Museum, Orange County's most prestigious museum and one that stresses contemporary art. It is considering construction of a larger home in the same Newport Center area. Building cost estimates have ranged as high as $30 million.

Then there's Santa Ana's city-owned Bowers Museum, which specializes in the cultural history of California and the West. Bowers plans an $8.8-million expansion to be financed under the city's redevelopment program.

Nevertheless, the Laguna Art Museum, although the smallest of Orange County's major museums, is the only one of the three to have gone through with actual expansion.

And to hear Laguna backers tell it, it was no mean feat. Fund-raising competition, they said, came from not only other museums, but from the massive drive to build and operate the new Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

"Frankly, raising what we have thus far--and at the time we're doing it--is something of a minor miracle for a museum our size," said Marla Bird, the museum's development committee chairwoman.

The museum's target is $2.2 million--$1.6 million for the structural expansion and renovation, the rest for equipment and furnishings and for exhibitions and educational projects.

According to Bird, $1.7 million has been given or pledged. The supporters, she said, include such more recent patrons as Thomas Tierney, the museum's current board president, as well as such longtime donors as the Harry G. Steele Foundation.

When Otton assumed the director's post in 1981, the Laguna Art Museum was already preparing expansion plans. But the exhibitions, said Otton, were then bewilderingly unfocused and mostly lacking in regional quality. Since, said Otton, there have been moves to present important shows on contemporary artists--including Paul Outerbridge, Millard Sheets and Nathan Oliveira--alone and in tandem with shows on earlier California artists.

For example, he said, the two major exhibitions mounted for this month's reopening:

- "Early Artists in Laguna Beach: The Impressionists," an 83-work show covering the 1918-1928 period and featuring the local colony's founding artists, including Clarence Hinkle, Joseph Kleitsch, Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, Marion Wachtel and William Wendt.

- "California Contemporary: Works from the Security Pacific Collection," a 50-work show that includes works by Tony Berlant, Charles Garbedian, D.J. Hall, Helen Lundeberg and Michael Todd.

On Nov. 20, a major survey of Elmer Bischoff works since 1947 will be presented. Organized by the Laguna Art Museum, the Bischoff exhibition has already been held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and opens this month at the Phillips Collection gallery in Washington.

Los Angeles Times Articles