©Pat Lasch
Pat Lasch, “A Life Blessed: 50th Anniversary Golden Egg, 1985-1986,” plaster, thorns and gold leaf, collection of Jennifer Grausman. Credit: ©Pat Lasch

One of the best things that can happen when you experience art is to be surprised. It’s the artist’s job to transcend expectations and push you in new directions of thought and emotion.

You don’t need to have any prerequisite art knowledge for this to happen; however, you must trust that those who choose to present their art have something to say. You can end up enlightened or repulsed—but if you are genuinely surprised, you may find out more about yourself through the art.

This may very well happen at Pat Lasch: Journeys of the Heart, now on display at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, The Galen. This is her first major exhibition, covering 43 years as an artist, and the intense biographical thread of feminist-driven art sculptures becomes more than the cakes and dresses you may have seen in photographs. Lasch’s work, in fine detail, covers the “passages” of life, from birth to expiration, with a passion rooted in a deep spirituality.

Since the 1970s, Lasch has been making intricate sculptures resembling confections using acrylic paint, wood, paper and other things, as well as life-sized dresses which follow significant moments in a woman’s lifetime—made of piped paint lace and other materials. She was one of the first members of the A.I.R. Gallery women’s collective in New York City. The daughter of a German pastry chef and a seamstress, Lasch learned from her father that “if you make a mistake, put a rose on it.”

As a viewer, it would be a mistake not to appreciate the details of her work.

“The decorative ways in which she uses her media, from paint and paper to bronze, are interwoven with her spectacularly labor-intensive working methods,” said Mara Gladstone, associate curator for the exhibit. “Pat embraces emotion and beauty in her work, and there is power in that.”

At the center of the exhibit is “A Life Blessed,” five pieces that represent the passages of a woman: birth, coming of age (via a communion dress), marriage (a wedding dress), an anniversary (a golden egg sculpture) and death (a shroud). The sculpture “The Egg Handler” depicts a woman dipping her arm into a collection of eggs, suggesting the nurturing of life.

Even more striking are the “death” cakes—sculptures decorated with studded pins and drenched in black-paint icing. For Lasch, “cakes mark time.”

“Why not a cake for death? It’s one of our last and most important transitions,” Lasch said. She once brought one of the black cakes to an exhibition following the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. She was quoted then as saying: “I’ve always been interested in death. I want to know what that transition is about. But I’m also interested in union and marriage. The crucial question for me as an artist is, ‘Who am I? Where am I from?’”

One particularly difficult transition for Lasch occurred recently, when she requested a cake she was commissioned to make for the New York MoMA 50th anniversary in 1979—only to find that the museum had discarded it when the museum was cleaning out its storage facilities. A museum representative acknowledged the mistake with an email: “Please accept my sincere apologies as well as my very best wishes for the success of your show in Palm Springs.” Some might say that really takes the cake.

Lasch lives part-time in Rancho Mirage, as well as New York. To commemorate the exhibition, the artist has created limited-edition mini-cake sculptures that are available for purchase at The Galen. An illustrated color catalog accompanies the exhibition, with limited-edition copies available.

Pat Lasch: Journeys of the Heart exhibit runs through Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, The Galen, at 72567 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-346-5600, or visit www.psmuseum.org/palm-desert.