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Looking Back : Duquette's Angels Find a Home Away From Home

December 31, 1987|DICK RORABACK

They still stand tall, proud, vigilant. Befitting their seraphic status there remains a certain radiance about them, a glow.

Beneath the glow, a tear.

Los Angeles' orphaned Angels--the ones fashioned in 1981 by artist Tony Duquette and his dedicated assembly of acolytes--have just spent their first Christmas away from home, in San Francisco of all places.

Hutton Wilkinson, director of the Duquette Foundation, smiles through. They're his babies too, and he puts the best construction on the plight of the proteges. "They're thrilled to be away from L.A. for Christmas," he says, with only a trace of irony. "They're thrilled because--finally--they're landowners. Yuppie Angels. Upwardly mobile."

The Angels, created by Duquette as a gift to Los Angeles, never really had a home here, winging it from museum to storeroom to church . . . always welcome, but in the end, always evicted.

Homage to St. Francis

In April, they materialized--albeit in the cheap seats--as part of Duquette's new "celebrational environment" in homage to St. Francis. In a numinous light-and-sound festival that already has drawn tens of thousands, the 28-foot Angels appear in the balcony of the Duquette Pavilion (formerly a burnt-out synagogue)--beatified back-ups to the main event: Francis, the "hippie saint."

Though fully 30% of the pavilion's visitors are from this city, the San Franciscans' ardent embrace of Los Angeles' heritage would seem to put them one up on their rival to the south.

"We're doing terribly well," confesses Duquette by phone from his second home in San Francisco, "and financially, we're almost breaking even. The energy of the Angels, their power, is undiminished. It's a living, breathing thing. Still, you know, the Angels should be in the city they were made for."

What would it take? "A building," says Duquette, "and a committee to run it, to underwrite it, to make it work. . . ."

Regrets, then, but hardly paralysis. Duquette, the only American ever to have had a one-man exhibit in the Sorbonne, already is into his next--and biggest--"environment," one he almost names before he catches himself in time: "If I said what it was, it might weaken it," he apologizes. "Just say I'm working on an enormous project."

Meanwhile, he is pleased, "overwhelmed," by the reception of his Franciscan masterwork, Angels and all.

"They write the most beautiful things in the visitors' book," says Wilkinson: " 'Celestial.' 'Spellbinding.' 'We found them (the Angels)!' 'Like riding on a comet.'

"One little boy wrote: 'I hope Tony Duquette created heaven, because if it's anything like this, I'll be crazy about it.' "

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