Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Down in "The Muck"

I made the long drive down to Fullerton late afternoon yesterday, in rush hour--surprisingly, not too bad!--ending up at "The Muck", the name they have adopted for themselves at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center. Originally the ranch house for one of those vast Orange County citrus farms, the Muck's grand exterior and surrounding expanses of green lawn belie a rather modestly-scaled interior. I was greeted there by the center's director, Zoot Velasco, who graciously offered a tour of the home as we waited for participants to arrive. In the living room, now used as the center's main gallery, I immediately recognized a beautiful Batchelder fireplace, and another in the adjacent room, with tiles representing the Chisholm Trail--tiles that were available, Zoot told me, only to those who had actually made that long trek across the West to California. The Muckenthaler family, it seems, were among them, and made their fortune off the bounty of the citrus-rich Orange County. Alas, those vast acres that once produced rich crops have now been replaced by vast acres of tracts homes and shopping malls!

In the dining room, my eye was attracted by two small pictures--one a poster, one a print--in the corner of the room, both of which seemed curiously out of place. They were both hard-edge abstractions, very bright in color, beautifully balanced, very nicely done. The poster informed me they were by one Florence Arnold, a name I had never before heard. Turns out, she was a bit of an institution in Fullerton, where she lived and worked. I wish I could show you an image, but I have not been able to find one online. She was considered good enough, in her day, to have been included in the second of the famous California hard edge shows curated by LA Times critic Jules Langser along with such luminaries as Larry Bell, Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, Helen Lundeberg and John McLaughlin--a distinguished group indeed.

Seeing this picture gave me a nice edge to work with at the beginning of my talk. It was a small turnout--small enough that I suggested changing our seating configuration from formal lecture rows into a more intimate circle, which made for comfortable sense of community among the participants. I was introduced by Rick Stein, Executive Director of Arts OC, who had been instrumental in arranging the event, and who, in turn, had been introduced by Zoot, with a few words about The Muck's programs and goals. As I sometimes do, I started out by reading a new essay, "Branding"--one not included in "Persist"--in which I refer to the recently "discovered" hard edge painter in New York, Carmen Herrara, finally recognized by the art market and the museums at the age of 94! (If you've never heard of her, read this report in the New York Times.)

The point, of course, is that the art world is fickle and elitist in its judgments about who is worthy of its attention. Artists like Carmen Herrera and Florence Arnold are regularly sidelined by the seemingly irresistible flow of the mainstream, but this unfortunate reality in no way diminishes their art. Which is why we must all find reasons--and courage--to "persist" that do not depend on the world out there for validation.

I'm happy to report that my talk went well, and that the circle proved a nice forum for discussion. Even though the core stories of my talks remain the same, every presentation is different, every audience brings a new challenge and a new reward.

(For the record, next week, I'm at the Casa Romantica in San Clemente: Thursday, May 6, 7PM, Casa Romantica, 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente, 92672, Tel: 949 498-2139.)

No comments: