The Monterey Museum of Art forges a new future without Executive Director E. Michael Whittington.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
There’s a new round of art going up on the walls at Monterey Museum of Art/Pacific Street, replacing the best-selling Miniatures and Annette Corcoran’s Monterey NOW exhibits. The new stuff draws prints from Henri Matisse’s Jazz portfolio and late San Francisco-area artist Beth Van Hoesen, and also includes original paintings by local artist Johnny Apodaca.
But the worthy work may be overshadowed for a time, maybe even at the opening reception for the exhibits this Friday, by the news that E. Michael Whittington’s seven-year stint as executive director of the Monterey Museum of Art came to an abrupt end two weeks ago. Details are scarce, but Melissa Burnett, president of MMA’s board of trustees, gave judiciously worded comment.
“We were in the beginning of strategic planning, [a new] mission statement, five strategies for organization,” Burnett says. “It’s a great opportunity. We’re going to be able to custom select a person to help us fulfill those strategies.”
A committee has been formed, she says, to find a replacement for Whittington; Craig Johnson, former president of the board, will fill in as interim. In the meantime, Curator Karen Crews-Hendon has stepped front and center as the interpreter of this wave of art. She says there’s no thematic relationship among the exhibits.
“There have been packages with underlying themes – Monterey Modern, Urban Life, the [Works Progress Administration] – but we can do it both ways. I like bringing in exhibitions in and of themselves.”
There are links, though, on a more global scale. The big name here is Matisse, the most striking work the gouache-painted paper cut-outs he created while convalescing from cancer surgery in a wheelchair or in bed. It forced the famed painter to simplify his technique. His friend, French publisher Efstratios Teriade, convinced him to publish the works in a 1947 compendium called Jazz.
At the museum’s La Mirada location, Hendon points out, is the exhibition of Chuck Close: Works on Paper 1975-2012. Close also suffered a debilitating medical malady that confined him to a wheelchair, adjusted his technique to accommodate his disability, and also turned to printmaking.
This Matisse work was last seen at the museum in 2007. It comprises iconic and energetic images that look childlike and simple. “Icarus” was used as the album cover for Wynton Marsalis’ The Majesty of the Blues, but the museum’s flagship image of the Matisse work is “The Sword Swallower.”
Hendon saw it as “an explosion of expression coming out of the mouth… music, poetry, expression.”
That interpretation can serve well as the theme for the Matisse works. The artist took a liking to the jazz/improvisation theme Teriade lent the unbound book; he scribed the accompanying text in simple calligraphy; and the cutouts represent a rebirth of his creative spirit that carried him in that new direction for his final 14 years.
“Today, the result is recognized as one of the most important – and most beautiful – artist’s books ever produced,” Hendon writes about Jazz.
Apodaca’s painting style has morphed over the years, like the work of several altogether different people, from representational to pleine aire to abstract expressionism to the Bay Area style. Apodaca can draw a lineage to Matisse through Richard Diebenkorn, one of the influences of his Monterey NOW showcase landscapes – Diebenkorn was himself influenced by Matisse.
“Johnny’s a quintessential poet/artist,” Hendon says. “In public with a beret and palette, going to Europe. Nobody does that anymore. [He’s] timeless, romantic… He loves aerial views, abstract shapes, flatness. This is a culmination of a lot of past techniques – San Francisco style, colorist, texture, more geometric.”
The Monterey NOW slot, reserved for four solo artist shows a year, is a valuable spotlight for local artists that comes with a speaking engagement and extended brochure. Apodaca, an approachable ambassador for local art, is also on the museum’s exhibitions and acquisitions committee. Hendon says that, per protocol, he was not part of the committee to decide on upcoming exhibitions.
Hendon curated the work of Beth Van Hoesen, a San Francisco master of drawing and printmaking who died in 2010, and it’s a well-rounded medley of stark work, the precise animal portraits (like the rabbit “Sally”) that boosted her reputation in the ’80s, and human portraits of creatively attired punk rockers and enigmatic self-portraits.
“[Her prints] are extremely detailed,” Hendon says, “reverent, effortless, simple.”
Mari Kloeppel, a 2011 Monterey NOW featured artist who also does finely-tuned animal portraits, was a disciple of Van Hoesen. A group of donors is loaning 30 Van Hoesen pieces to the museum’s permanent collection. So the museum’s lost an executive director but gained a sum of artworks.
“Upon my arrival a year ago,” Hendon says, “I came with a plan to bring a broader range of artists and medium, and to engage the public with new programs and experiences. Our staff is eager to jump in and make pivotal changes.”
MMA’s new exhibits open with a reception 5-7pm Friday, Feb. 1 (regular hours: 11am-5pm Wed-Sat, 1-4pm Sun), at Monterey Museum of Art-Pacific, 559 Pacific St., Monterey. $10/general; free/museum member. 372-5477, www.montereyart.org
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• There are newspaper accounts, archeological remnants and photographs of Pacific Grove’s Chinese Fishing Village, an enclave once situated on Point Alones that mysteriously burned down May 16, 1906. In recent years there have been commemorations, murals, scholarship and remembrance walks. Now the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is housing a scale model of the village, built by Michael E. Croft, a charming miniature replica that makes it easy to imagine the bustle of life that thrived in it long ago – and the mysterious fire that incinerated it and expelled its Chinese population. Croft has completed the second model to “further the knowledge of our Chinese history” and is looking for a place for it. How about enclosed in a plexiglass outdoor kiosk overlooking Point Alones?
• Valley Greens Gallery opened last weekend in Carmel Valley Village, at 16 A East Carmel Valley Road (next to the vacated space of the former M42 Gallery). Their Facebook lays out a sort-of mission statement from co-owners/couple Neil Kirkpatrick and Leah Fusco: “Into rad art, local scene, and time with the kids. Decided to combine all three.” The clean white clapboard walls are plastered with Benday dot experimental pop paintings (Bonard Hughins’ dual MLK portrait looks fresh), graphical collage agit-prop art, mixed media of mixed eras, some Anne Faith Nicholls-looking stuff, and graffiti/gallery painter Elijah Pfotenhauer. The online calendar looks pretty barren, but the walls look full of youthful vision.
• Local Renaissance man Sam Wallace, who was the only one to submit a 1-minute song to the Weekly’s White Fence at Golden State Theatre ticket giveaway contest, once cheffed at Otter Bay Cafe, and is a musician who plays banjo and mandolin. Wallace also collects wire hangers and electrical wire, fashioning them into shapes of people, motorcycles, teddy bears. His latest trick is appropriating abandoned phone booths and inserting wires into them, giving them anachronistic skeletal systems. He co-opted the inert phone booth in front of the Monterey post office for a sly public art project. Keep an eye out for others.
• The Forest Theater Guild has announced that it is teaming up with the Shakespeare Society of America (located in Moss Landing, the website neglects to mention) to produce a “historic” adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors at the Outdoor Forest Theater, coming in May.
• The Weekly’s own Diane Glim, a big supporter of whales and dolphins (especially the endangered vaquita porpoise), has served as the president of the Monterey Bay chapter of the American Cetacean Society. She’s recently been named the president of the National Cetacean Society. Marine mammals rejoice. Readers, too, in the whale of a story about underwater photographer Bryant Austin’s new exhibit at Museum of Monterey