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Laguna Art Museum Scores Again; Gets 517 Works by Peter Krasnow

Art * Gift by early L.A. Modernist's foundation is the small museum's third recent coup.

July 26, 2000|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

In a move that doubles the size of the Laguna Art Museum's small collection and makes it the primary repository of works by a leading early Los Angeles Modernist, the museum has received a gift of 517 works by Peter Krasnow. The donation, from the Los Angeles-based Peter Krasnow Foundation, comprises 177 paintings, 54 sculptures, 386 drawings and an undisclosed amount of funds for an exhibition and catalog of the artist's work, the museum announced on Tuesday.

Museum director Bolton Colburn said the gift emphasizes the seaside institution's increasingly strong position as a champion of regional art. "What drives this museum is dedication to California art history. We are especially committed to the art of Southern California, and we are working hard to fill in the gaps," he said. The Krasnow gift will preserve the artist's legacy for future generations, Colburn added.

Krasnow, who was born in a Ukrainian village in 1887, immigrated to the United States in 1908 to escape the Russian pogroms. He made his first home in the U.S. in Chicago and studied at the Art Institute there. He married Rose Bloom and moved to New York in 1919. Three years later, the couple drove across the country and settled in Glendale. Their home and Peter's studio became a favorite meeting place for artists and intellectuals who had chosen to live on the West Coast.

At his death in 1979, Krasnow had compiled a lengthy exhibition record and gained critical acclaim for an original body of work that filtered Modernist ideas through a distinctive sensibility.

Best known for vividly colored, maze-like paintings and totemic wood sculptures, Krasnow is sometimes characterized as a visionary humanist. His work was inspired by a wide variety of sources, ranging from Hebrew letters and Russian folklore to the urban environment and the tropical landscape of his adopted home, but it always seemed to be infused with an effervescent spirit and a love of craft.

In a Times review of a 1996 exhibition, critic Susan Kandel praised the "comic ebullience" of Krasnow's 1940s paintings and noted that his "electrified palette--once so idiosyncratic--became a leitmotif of Postmodernist design 30 or 40 years later."

The Krasnow gift is the third large donation of modern and contemporary art received by the museum during the past 14 months. San Fernando Valley-based collectors Stuart and Judy Spence gave the museum 109 works by California contemporary artists in May 1999. Santa Monica-based collectors Peter and Eileen Norton donated 124 works by young California artists last January, in a nationwide dispersal of part of their vast holding.

On each occasion, Colburn persuaded the donors that the Laguna Art Museum will make active use of the gifts in exhibitions and scholarly studies. In the case of Krasnow, Colburn pointed out that the museum had already shown a strong interest in the artist by acquiring two of his works and presenting "Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernists 1920-1956," an exhibition featuring Krasnow's work, organized in 1990 by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Colburn said the donation will give the museum "a wonderful opportunity" to examine Krasnow's work and influence on other artists in greater depth.

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