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The Palm Springs Art Museum is celebrating its 80th anniversary with an exhibition of 80 works of art recently added to its permanent collection. The exhibit showcases the wide-ranging collections the museum has acquired over the years since its founding as the one-room Palm Springs Desert Museum in La Plaza in 1938.

Back in those days, the museum focused on Native American artifacts, natural science and the local environment. After moving among several downtown locations, the museum opened a 10,000-square-foot location in 1958—with galleries to display art, marking its transition into an art museum.

Today, the natural science and environment section of the museum has evolved into a separate public entity, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The museum now has a satellite location in Palm Desert, and also operates the Architecture and Design Center, located in a classic mid-century building originally designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1961, on Palm Canyon Drive a few blocks from the museum and performance center.

I recently visited the main museum to view the Eighty @ Eighty exhibit—and I found it well worth a trip out in triple-digit temperatures. The 80 works on display, all either donated to or purchased by the museum within the last five years, offer a great overview of the museum's diverse collections.

In the central court, a playful standing mobile by Alexander Calder, “The Lizard,” 1968, is interestingly juxtaposed, with a contemporary assemblage of a shopping cart containing a hydraulic lift: “Shopper Hopper,” 2016, by Rubin Ortiz-Torres. The shopping cart symbolizes the working-class Latino, as well as the homeless, while the hydraulic lift is a common feature in upgraded lowrider cars.

Around the corner, a large abstract painting, “Untitled (P1304),” 2013, by Penelope Krebs, uses wide vertical stripes in different shades of blue to create a work that is both soothing and cooling—like stepping out of the hot sun and into the shade.

For Tom Fruin's “Flag: Farragut Houses,” 2013, the artist stitched together drug bags that he collected over a six-month period from a housing project in Brooklyn. The resulting quilt-like sculpture is a testament to the perils of life today.

At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese artist Mineo Mizuno's “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, is a study in serenity and balance. The nearly 5-foot-tall ceramic sculpture, in the shape of an elongated drop of water, changes shades gently, from white at the top to deep blue at its base.

One of the most evocative pieces is “Hand With Spot G,” 2001 by Douglas Gordon. The artist super-enlarges an instant photograph of his left hand. From a distance, I thought the dark spot in the center was a depiction of stigmata. However, upon reading the notes, I learned the image is taken from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In the book, a black spot is the mark of death.

The exhibit is dominated by large scale abstract paintings. There are also examples of 19th-century California landscapes, Native American ceramics, 20th-century photography, modernist chairs and a wide range of contemporary art.

“This recent-acquisitions exhibition was fun to organize in that it allows us to share stories about our collection through unexpected juxtapositions,” said Mara Gladstone, associate curator of the Palm Springs Museum of Art, in a statement. “Alongside our important Alexander Calder mobile is an interactive shopping cart sculpture by Ruben Ortiz-Torres. A muscular bronze by Jacques Lipchitz parallels a similarly powerful female figure by Alison Saar, and a glass house by Mildred Howard is adjacent to mid-century modern design by Verner Panton and an assemblage of kitchenware by Subodh Gupta. Many of these treasures haven’t been displayed before, and this installation showcases the historical strength of our collection and the exciting direction in which it is moving.”

There's time to experience this wonderfully eclectic exhibition before it ends on Sept. 16.

Eighty @ Eighty: Recent Gifts to the Permanent Collection is on display through Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission costs vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org. Below: “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, by Mineo Mizuno.

Published in Visual Arts

There are many adjectives that could apply to Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art 1954-1969, an exhibit currently at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Historic. Groundbreaking. Educational. Mesmerizing.

In the end, however, the most important thing is this: The exhibit, touted as the first in-depth examination of the role played by mid-century South American artists in kinetic art, is a whole lot of interactive fun.

Things move and transform. They shimmer and beguile. The viewer is an essential part of the artwork itself.

Kinetic art is divided into two categories. The first is active, where the art itself is animated by electric motors, wind, magnets or light. (A posting warns that some of the flashing lights may cause seizures in persons with a certain kind of epilepsy.) The second is passive, in which the transformation is dependent on the movement of the viewer themself. This exhibit contains examples of both.

I visited the exhibit on a recent Thursday evening—when admission is free to all. As I entered the museum’s central court, a black hole of an entry beckoned to the crowd. In it, two brilliant red diamonds shimmered and teased. Moving toward them caused the shapes to shift and adjust. As people passed between the diamonds, new illusions were created. A textbook example of passive kinetic art was on display.

Just beyond were artworks with mirrors, slowly turning columns of acrylic, and boxes that flashed lights in different shapes and colors—active kinetic art. The exhibit was already quite educational—but the fun was just beginning. My impression: Kinetic art is the rollercoaster in the amusement park of modern art.

There were different rooms, some light, some dark. In one area were paintings that changed color and design as one walked past them. The “Chromosaturation” chambers by Carlos Cruz-Diez, 1965/2010, invited the viewer to travel through three entirely white spaces illuminated by either blue, red or green saturated light.

“La Ciudad Hidroespacial (Spacial City),” 1946-1972, by Gyula Kosice, depicts the artist’s futuristic vision of our planet—completely covered by water, with floating cities of glass and light suspended above the all-encompassing ocean. People could travel between the cities, but never return to the drowned surface of the Earth.

The exhibit is brilliantly curated by Dan Cameron, whose resume includes a lengthy stint as senior curator of the New Museum in New York City, co-curator of the Taipei Biennial, and the idea man behind Prospect New Orleans.

Be sure to allow time to wander and play among the interactive artworks. Much of the active kinetic artworks are on timers, because the delicate mechanisms are now 50 years old or beyond. They turn on for 15- or 20-minute periods and then shut down for a rest period. You’ll want to go back and forth to see all of them functioning.

Kinetic art is widely regarded as a European movement that began with the 1955 Paris exhibition Le Mouvement. It has been wildly popular throughout the world, but for some reason never caught on that much in the United States. One of the goals of this exhibit is to bring attention to the art—and dispel the myth that kinetic art was solely a European invention.

“Kinetic art emerged in Europe in the early 20th century, with its progenitors employing light, space and motion to create an ethereal, almost sensuous experience for the viewer,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, the Palm Springs Art Museum’s executive director, in a press release. “This exhibition serves as an introduction to the Latin American artists who played critical roles in the movement, while simultaneously providing a curatorial case for kinetic art as an important medium.”

Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969 is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an exploration of “Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.” Supported by grants from the Getty Foundation, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is taking place January 2018 at more than 70 places across Southern California. 

For more information on Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969, including museum hours and admission prices, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

Stephen Berger has been both a painter and ceramic tile artist. He spent his career in fashion and design in New York City and Chicago. He currently lives in Palm Springs and is completing his first novel.

Published in Visual Arts

You are in an art gallery, taking in all the intricacies of a certain painting, when you overhear someone say: “My 4-year old could do that.”

It’s that kind of broad-stroke dismissal that many women painters in the 1940s and 1950s experienced in the art world.

Although many women had thriving art careers at that time, they were never taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Today, the exhibition Women of Abstract Expressionism, at the Palm Springs Art Museum through May 28, shows just how influential the works of these artists was and is.

The exhibit contains more than 50 major paintings by 12 artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 20th century, an era recognized as the first fully American modern-art movement. Curated by Gwen Chanzit of the Denver Art Museum, it’s the only exhibition to present works by these artists together.

Chanzit told artnet News, “Except for a very small number of scholars who have spent their lives working in this field, there will be people you haven’t heard of (in this exhibit).”

In preparation for the exhibition, Chanzit looked at the work of more than 100 women, about 40 of whom she says would have been a good fit for the final show. “This is not about pushing a feminist agenda; it’s about taking another look,” Chanzit added.

Artists included in this exhibit are from opposite sides of the spectrum—the New York and San Francisco art scenes. They were all expressing the struggle between self-expression and the unconscious in their work, and were inspired by personal experience, expressed despite the exclusion they faced.

Mary Lee Abbott, a direct ancestor of John Adams, formed a friendship with Willem de Kooning, who was a major influence in her artistic development. She later joined the infamous “Downtown Group,” founded by a group of artists who lived in lower Manhattan.

Jay DeFeo dealt with abstract expressionism, surrealism and spirituality and became a pivotal figure in the historic San Francisco community of artists, poets and jazz musicians.

Elaine de Kooning, an editorial associate for Art News magazine and wife of Willem de Kooning, signed her artworks with her initials instead of her full name to avoid her paintings being labeled as “feminine” or having them confused with her husband’s work.

Perle Fine was one of the few female painters invited to join the 8th Street Artists’ Club by Willem de Kooning (yes, there is a pattern here) and later in her career specialized in bas-relief paintings and grids.

Helen Frankenthaler was inspired by the works of Jackson Pollock and then developed her own revolutionary technique of stain painting. She is also known for introducing a newer generation to a form of abstract painting that came to be known as Color Field.

Sonia Gechtoff is a social realist painter who credits her early success to other female artists her mother managed in San Francisco art galleries.

Judith Godwin was inspired by the modern dance movement, expressed by her broad, corporeal gestures, arcs and angles in her work.

Grace Hartigan, a close friend of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, is known for a series of gestural abstractions. When once asked if a male artist ever told her she painted like a man, Hartigan replied, “Not twice.”

Lee Krasner worked with the Public Works of Art Project and in the mural division of the Federal Art Project/Works Progress Administration during the mid-1930s. She was married to Jackson Pollock and is one of the few female artists to have had a retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock—that’s a matter of fact—but I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock,” she said.

Joan Mitchell, a member of the “second generation” of American abstract expressionists, formed friendships with poet Frank O’Hara and Grace Hartigan and referred to her own work as “very violent and angry.”

Deborah Remington belonged to the Beat scene in San Francisco and was the only female founder of the Six Gallery, where Allen Ginsberg first read his incendiary Howl in public.

Ethel Schwabacher’s paintings were influenced by psychoanalysis and Freudian theory, and reveal the influence of Gorky and Surrealism in her work.

This exhibit displays the influences of this movement, from Tolstoy (Gechtoff), to Rimbaud (Krasner) to modern-dance innovator Martha Graham (Goodwin). “The King Is Dead” by Hartigan is about Pablo Picasso and strives to make a larger point. The works by Helen Frankenthaler range from showing the influence of Pollock to her own breakthrough in Western Style in her later works.

Krasner’s “Cornucopia” was inspired by nature and expressed by the arabesques that come from the physical movement of her whole arm, not just the hands and wrist. Jay Defeo’s “Incision” contains waves of oil paint that feel as if one could climb onto the composition—as if it were a force of nature. Remington’s “Apropos” displays bold areas of scarlet intertwined with serpentine areas of green and black.

Walking around these paintings, ranging from the large canvases to smaller scale statements, is like walking through a garden in a dreamscape. Do not miss this show.

Women of Abstract Expressionism is on display through Sunday, May 28, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday through Tuesday; and noon to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday. Admission is $12.50, with discounts and various free days. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

Published in Visual Arts