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ART NOTES

MOCA Bids Farewell to Summer

August 21, 1994|Suzanne Muchnic | Suzanne Muchnic is the Times art writer.

Celebrating the success of a strategy to build its audience in a festive atmosphere, the Museum of Contemporary Art will close its 1994 season of "Summer Nights at MOCA" on Thursday with a free public evening of art talk, jazz and appetizers. Scheduled for 5-8 p.m., the program features a talk by artist Richard Jackson on Bruce Nauman's retrospective exhibition at 6:30 p.m. The Blues Underground will perform on the sculpture plaza. Complimentary appetizers will be provided by Patinette, wine tasting for a small fee by Sterling Vineyards.

Evidence that the series aims to expand the museum's crowd has been all over town this summer. Billboards have popped up bearing slogans such as "Seinfeld's in reruns. Thursday nights are free through August." "Free Thursday night? MOCA is." and "One more reason to put off going to the gym. Thursday nights are free at the Museum of Contemporary Art." Similar sales pitches have appeared on buses and bus stop shelters.

Beefing up an ongoing attempt to attract downtowners, the museum's marketers have targeted central-city employees, residents and visitors by distributing publicity on "Summer Nights" to government agencies, corporate offices and hotel concierges. In addition, museum members and others on MOCA's regular mailing list have received promotional newsletters and fliers.

According to MOCA officials, the marketing campaign has been effective. "We have tripled our Thursday-night attendance," Kathleen Bartels, MOCA's deputy director, says. While the museum is open free of charge on Thursday nights throughout the entire year, attendance generally averages around 300 to 350, she says. In sharp contrast, "Summer Nights" have packed in an average of 900 people, with attendance occasionally running over 1,000.

Visitors are partaking of the art as well as the free food and music, Bartels says. "We were afraid people would just come for the wine and not go into the museum, but that has not been the case," she says. "There has been a lot of interest in the Nauman show."

Having devised a formula that works, the museum plans to continue "Summer Nights" every Thursday evening next summer. The series has evolved from a fall program of "Corporate Nights" to a once-a-month summer schedule, but having weekly programs throughout the summer works best, Bartels says. It all came together this year, she says, after the staff got together and combined successful aspects of previous programs.

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VISITING REMBRANDT: A Rembrandt self-portrait from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu to Sept. 25. No, it isn't one of the Rembrandts stolen from the Boston museum four years ago in a heist of 13 artworks that are still missing. The youthful image--depicting the 23-year-old artist as a romantic figure in a theatrical tunic and plumed hat--is being displayed in return for conservation work done on the painting at the Getty.

The visiting Rembrandt is part of an ongoing program at the Getty that displays works from other museums in exchange for Getty conservation. The first criteria for these projects are the importance and quality of the artworks themselves, says Getty conservator Mark Leonard. The Rembrandt fills the bill by being a superior work of art that complements pieces by the Dutch master in the Getty's collection, he says.

The Gardner thieves had designs on the self-portrait. They took it off the wall, but apparently left it behind after discovering that it is painted on a heavy wood panel and couldn't be easily removed from its bulky frame. Fortunately, they did no significant damage to the painting. The job tackled by Leonard entailed removing grime and repairing problems that had developed since the work was last restored 20 years ago.

He repainted discolored areas that had been retouched, reattached flaking pigment and repaired two vertical splits in the panel--one from an original joint and another from shrinkage. Leonard also applied a subtle glazing to hide an underlying portrait of an unknown subject that was beginning to show through the background of the self-portrait.

Painting one portrait on top of another was not unusual for Rembrandt, he says. "These were commissioned portraits. When a client didn't pick up the work, didn't like it or didn't pay for it, Rembrandt didn't destroy the panel, because that would have been too expensive. He whited it out and painted over it."

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