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Distinct luster

The late Beatrice Wood's versatile nature shines through in a retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

August 31, 2011|Jori Finkel

Before she died in 1998 at the age of 105, artist Beatrice Wood liked to say that she owed her longevity to "chocolate and young men."

A Santa Monica Museum of Art retrospective of her work does include a campy ceramic sculpture she made on that theme, which shows a regal woman flanked by a phalanx of tiny adoring male figures. But the show, opening Sept. 10, promises to go beyond the sensational, sari-wearing persona that Wood cultivated to find an artist of contradictions and complexities. Called the Mama of Dada in New York during World War I, Wood went on to become a serious ceramicist in Ojai in her later years.

The show is part of Pacific Standard Time, a region-wide celebration of Southern California's postwar art history, largely funded by the Getty. Most of the museum shows will open the first week of October. "Beatrice Wood: Career Woman" is one of a handful to open earlier (see box for others), for scheduling reasons, says museum director Elsa Longhauser.

Wood was born to a wealthy San Francisco family but made her home in bohemian art circles. The show's earliest works include Dada drawings and ephemera from her time in New York when she was an intimate (some say lover) of artist Marcel Duchamp. Some works, like her poster design for the 1917 avant-garde bash Blind Man's Ball, come from the collection of Dada dealer/scholar Francis Naumann, who also contributed to the catalog.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 01, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Beatrice Wood: An article in the Aug. 31 Calendar section about a Beatrice Wood exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art said Wood was called the Mama of Dada in New York during World War I. In fact, she earned the nickname later.

Later selections show Wood as a versatile ceramic artist who specialized in lusterware, coating chalices and teapots with glazes that make them look like precious metals. She didn't start making ceramics until she was settled in L.A. at age 40, taking an extension course at Hollywood High to make a teapot and cups to match some neo-rococo luster plates she had bought in the Netherlands. She continued to make ceramics until a few years before her death.

She apprenticed with masters such as Glen Lukens and Gertrud and Otto Natzler. The Natzlers taught her how to use a potter's wheel, rare in California at the time. But according to Longhauser, Wood was never a by-the-book student.

"She was never interested in perfection of the form but the glory of the luster surface," says Longhauser, who co-curated the show. "Our exhibition will show the evolution of somebody who started her artistic career on the highest possible level with the giants of 20th century modernism and ultimately found her particular voice in lusterware pottery -- luminescent, shimmering surfaces that she invented herself through experimentation."




On exhibit

Although the official opening date of Pacific Standard Time is Oct. 1, a handful of exhibitions are already up or will open in early September.


California Art: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation

Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu

It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles, 1969-1973, Part 1: Hal Glicksman

Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont



Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987

Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969-1972 Revisited

Maria Nordman Filmroom: Smoke, 1967-Present

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Sept. 10

Beatrice Wood: Career Woman -- Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects

Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica

Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change

University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach

Sept. 13

From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine's Gray Column

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

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