People who drive over to Newport Harbor Art Museum in the hopes of seeing the permanent collection are almost always disappointed. That's because the museum only has space to show the Exhibit of the Moment, not the art that's always there--the works actually owned by the museum.
"Different Stories: Five Views of the Collection"--opening June 23 and continuing through Sept. 15-- could be viewed as Newport Harbor's stopgap solution to not having a chief curator on board. It's certainly easier to display works you've already got on hand than dream up an idea, hunt down the art and beg owners to part with it for months at a stretch.
But because we almost never get to see the museum's art, it is almost as much of a novelty as a brand-new exhibit. Better yet, the works have been organized into five mini-exhibitions that aim to demonstrate how Newport Harbor's holdings--primarily limited to post-World War II works by California artists--fit into the larger picture of modern and contemporary American art.
- "Recent Acquisitions" is a grab-bag group of works that joined the museum's collection in the past three years. Some of the artists have nothing whatever to do with California, but they are of sufficient stature that donations of their works were accepted anyway. Having art on hand that shows what the rest of the nation was doing for the past 45 years certainly makes sense.
The selection includes several earlier versions of Jonathan Borofsky's 1989 plexiglass sculpture, "Ruby" (which sits on the roof of the museum), John Coplans' gravely unsparing black-and-white photographs of parts of his body ("Body of Work," 1984-87), two sly works by rising young Los Angeles artist Tim Hawkison, an untitled abstract painting on lead-wrapped wood by the heavily ironic German artist Gunther Forg (who had a one-man show at the museum three years ago), and an untitled 1947 painting by black East Coast artist Jacob Lawrence from his "In the Heart of the Black Belt" series.
- "Postwar California Painting 1950-1980" offers paintings by various artists who came to prominence in the 1950s, some of whom went on to do substantially different work in later years. The late Elmer Bischoff's "Two Figures at the Seashore' and David Park's "Bather with Knee Up" both date from 1987, the heyday of the Bay Area Figurative style, which celebrated everyday life in a vivid, lyrical way.
John Altoon was working in a figurative manner when he painted "Jazz Players" in 1950; dating from 12 years later, an untitled abstract work exhibits his soon-to-be trademark style of bright, wandering doodles. Other featured artists include Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliviera, David Park and Hassel Smith.
- "Sculpture: Resisting Gravity" emphasizes the continued rejection of traditional materials and formal expectations--which began decades earlier--in sculpture from the 1970s and '80s. This group includes Robert Irwin's huge untitled acrylic piece from 1970, John McCracken's "Nine Planks I" from 1974 (a plank sheathed in gleaming polyester resin and fiberglass that leans casually against the wall), and Robert Therrien's deadpan "No Title" from 1986 (a tall metal pole rooted in a concrete block and topped by an anticlimactic little metal knob).
- "Paintings from the 1980s" suggests a host of answers to the much-debated question of the late 1970s, "Is painting dead?"--ranging from the expressionistic realism of Leonard Koscianski's "Wailing and Gnashing" (an image of fighting animals in a forest) to the conceptual wit of Mitchell Syrop's "The Gift That Keeps on Giving" (a text imitating a smooth-talking advertisement for an art "masterpiece," in ink on canvas). Other artists--working in expressionistic, conceptual, abstract, neutrally illustrative or quirkily personal styles--include Suzanne Caporeal, Tim Ebner, Marc Pally, Ed Ruscha, Lari Pittman, Dan McCleary and William Wiley.
- "Multiples" investigates the phenomenon of fine art reproduction, which has come to include a host of new techniques besides print reproduction and bronze casting. Claes Oldenburg's "Wedding Souvenir" pieces are tall, skinny slices of wedding cake made of cast plaster of Paris. George Segal's "Remembrance of Marcel" (from the portfolio, "Works by Artists in the New York Collection for Stockholm") is a 45 rpm record with a label--one of an edition of 300--made on a 3M color copy machine. Billy Al Bengston's sculpture, "Tom," is one of 50 identical dented aluminum sheets finished with lacquer and polyester.
The other artists represented in this mini-exhibit are all well-known: Andy Warhol, the husband-and-wife team of Leon Golub and Nancy Spero, R.B. Kitaj, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Peter Shire and Pat Steir. What: "Different Stories: Five Views of the Collection," work from the permanent collection of Newport Harbor Art Museum.
When: Opens Sunday, June 23. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, through Sept. 15.
Where: Newport Harbor Art Museum, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach.
Whereabouts: Take Jamboree Road to Santa Barbara Drive, just north of Coast Highway, and turn onto San Clemente Drive.
Wherewithal: $3 for adults, $2 for students and seniors, $1 for children ages 6 to 17 and free for everyone on Tuesdays. Discounts for groups of 10 or more.
Where to call: (714) 759-1122.