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Sense, Dollars and Art

January 02, 1994

Regarding "A Matter of Sense, Not Dollars," commentary by Times art critic Christopher Knight (Dec. 19):

Knight's extraordinary polemic affirming the importance of John McLaughlin as the "first, major, postwar Modern artist to have emerged in Southern California" is well-taken.

How many California artists of that era are represented by works in the collections of some 35 top museums, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Baltimore Museum of Art, Corcoran Art Gallery, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of American Art and Whitney Museum of American Art?

I would dispute Knight's statement that "there is no place in the world . . . to see a full, representative display" of McLaughlin's art. The Kawamura Museum, near Tokyo, has a very fine, carefully assembled collection of nine paintings, including a rare diptych, and 13 lithographs. Of course, this fact serves only to emphasize a central point of Knight's article: that our region does not sufficiently attend to its own cultural heritage.

A photo caption printed with the article (surely written by an editor, not by Knight) claims, "No major exhibition of (McLaughlin's) work has been compiled." Before his death in 1976, McLaughlin retrospectives were mounted by several museums around the country.

The Laguna Art Museum will present the first posthumous retrospective of McLaughlin's paintings, which I am organizing, from next Oct. 28 to Jan. 15, 1995, after which a version of the show will travel to art museums in Baltimore, Newark, N.J., and Oakland. At the same time, we will publish the first major book on the work of this very important artist from Southern California.

CHARLES DESMARAIS

Director, Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Beach

*

It's not about money. It's about politics, party-line politics. Since Knight arrived on the L.A. art scene, he has been actively engaged in devaluing most Abstract art. He has been the champion of a politically strident art that has been responsible for alienating what was a blossoming art audience.

Knight states that "the art scene is a complex ecology" and that "artists and their work stand at its center." It's my impression that some critics, and this critic in particular, have placed themselves in the center of that art scene and allow access only to those artists who share their political agendas. It is no wonder that L.A. collectors are a little jumpy about what is being represented as viable artwork.

That Knight would ask for a major exhibition of John McLaughlin's work is a non sequitur, on par with Bill Clinton talking about family values. It's true that McLaughlin deserves a major retrospective, but God help us if Knight writes that exhibition catalogue.

JOHN EDEN

Culver City

*

I guess I'm one of those Knight likes to refer to as an anti-intellectual. In order for that to be the case, however, the art Knight coos and oohs about must therefore be "intellectual."

Pray, educate me as to the intellectual depths of a painting with a broad swath of one color, a narrow stroke of another and a third, broad swath of yet a different color. Sorry, pal, I just don't see it, and I refuse to pretend that I do in order to avoid being called names by various art critics so divorced from reality-realism that they couldn't see the forest for the trees in a Magritte.

I clearly lack the cranial might of your Mr. Knight. What he sees as profound, I can only see as empty interior decoration. Perhaps Blake should have continued his famous poem: "And see the most profound thought possible, in a big minimalistic blotch of blue." I don't think even that great visionary could have quite managed it.

The Berlin Wall has fallen, and soon the razor-wire walls of "Modern art" will likewise tumble, allowing the illumination to be cast upon works that convey pith and moment and, yes, even beauty, without the need for an intermediary to try to justify the validity of some simple-minded paint spattering or idiotic installation. So much of the world of Modern art is empty of true intellect that its very airiness will solidify its ultimate ephemerality.

So enough, already! Be gone, you dandified purveyors of intellectual fraud. You emperors of Modern hucksterism. Oh, and while you're leaving, put some clothes on!

JAMES COWAN

Beverly Hills

*

Bravo, Mr. Knight, for having the guts to stand up and say what needs to be said. But while you were flailing that shotgun about, perhaps you should have leveled a blast or two at the artists.

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