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Morality in '80s Subject of Museum Exhibit

November 08, 1987|ZAN DUBIN

This spring's Gary Hart-Donna Rice debacle has found its way into the visual art world.

While not confined to politicians' ethics, an exhibition opening Saturday at the Laguna Art Museum takes up sensitive moral concerns similar to that which forced the Colorado Democrat to withdraw from the 1988 presidential race. Indeed, a newspaper clipping of Hart defending his association with Rice illustrates an exhibit catalogue essay titled "Morality Has Again Become a Major Public Issue in America" written by the exhibit's curator, Thomas W. Sokolowski.

Thirteen large-scale paintings by as many contemporary artists make up "Morality Tales: History Painting in the 1980s," organized by the New York-based Independent Curators Incorporated. The artists are Ida Applebroog, Sue Coe, Vincent Desiderio, Eric Fischl, Pamela Golden, Leon Golub, Attila Richard Lucas, Gregoire Muller, Odd Nerdrum, Andy Patton, Mark Tansey, Joanne Tod and Jerome Witkin.

Current morality is the subject matter of artists who continue the tradition of history painting predominant during the 17th and 18th Centuries, says Michael McManus, chief curator at the Laguna Art Museum. They have chosen issues ranging from "prepubescent prostitution" in urban America to "mainline feminism."

"A lot of the impulse for the show has to do with Eric Fischl's impact on the contemporary scene," McManus explained. Fischl, whose work addresses sexual morality, has been described by prominent art writers as "a significant moralist, and his work is a re-examination of morality," McManus said. The artist is represented in the exhibit by "Education," a work depicting a woman masturbating while a little boy, his arms wrapped around her knee, looks on.

"This will be an interesting show here for us in Orange County. We expect it to be controversial," McManus says. "We've been preparing our board of directors and membership" for the exhibit.

ALSO OPENING: An eclectic exhibition representing the broad range of recent art created in the western third of the nation opens Friday at the Palm Springs Desert Museum.

The "Third Western States Exhibition" features more than 100 works by 45 contemporary artists from 14 states, from Alaska to Hawaii and California to Texas. Paintings, sculpture, ceramics and photography from realistic to abstract compose the show, organized by the Western States Arts Foundation in cooperation with the Brooklyn Museum.

Experimental and adventurous works by lesser-known artists are emphasized, according to the exhibit's curator, Charlotta Kotik, curator of contemporary art for the Brooklyn Museum.

"It would have been impossible to impose a unifying theme or any other structure on this exhibition since the works are as diverse as are the characteristics of the areas where the artists live and work," states Kotik in an exhibit catalogue. "The exhibition thus mirrors the creative concepts and resulting formal multiplicity of that vast (Western) region."

Los Angeles-based artists Sabina Ott and Eileen Cowan, both seen in exhibits at the County Museum of Art, are included in the Palm Springs show. Ott is represented by a painting juxtaposing two seemingly unrelated images; Cowan by a staged black-and-white photograph.

The Western States Arts Foundation represents 14 western states' arts councils, including the California Arts Council. It was established in 1974 to enhance cooperation among these agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts, corporations, arts institutions and artists. Its goal is to increase audiences and sponsors for artists by providing them with new forums for their work.

The exhibit runs to Jan. 10.

PEOPLE: Christiana Orr-Cahall, director of the art division at the Oakland Museum, has been named director of Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art and its affiliated art school.

Al Nodal, director of the Otis/Parsons Art Institute Exhibition Center, has accepted a post as director of the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center, a large regional art center and artist space.

David Ebitz, an art historian and former associate professor of art at the University of Maine, has been appointed head of the J. Paul Getty Museum's department of education and academic affairs.

Dana Salvo, a Boston-based photographer, has been awarded the 1987 Ruttenberg Fellowship administered by the Friends of Photography. Salvo won the $2,000 prize to continue her 1986 photographic documentation of altars assembled by the Chamulan Indians during the Christmas season.

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