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Wendy Bowman-Littler | Photo: John Gilhooley | September 28, 2012
Some may not think of O.C. as a hotbed of art collecting—but it is.
Chuck Martin developed a love for painting and sculpting when he was just 8 years old, while growing up on the shores of Ohio’s Lake Erie. Upon reaching college, he realized that he couldn’t make a living as an artist, so he chose another career path. But art has remained a passion in the life of this Laguna Beach investment manager and philanthropist. In fact, a framed evening harbor scene he created on cardboard using house paint as a boy now hangs in the stunning Emerald Bay home he shares with his wife, Twyla. It’s placed right alongside an 80-piece collection of post-World War II California art by the likes of such talents as Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Irwin.
Most people never will see that childhood painting, unless they’re lucky enough to garner an invitation to the Martins’ home. But, beginning Oct. 7, art lovers can view some of the couple’s other pieces. They just need to visit the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, where they’ll find masterpieces belonging to more than a dozen of the region’s most notable private collectors, including works owned by Jennifer and Anton Segerstrom. It’s part of the museum’s new O.C. Collects exhibition, which runs through Dec. 30. The display features paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos by 50 artists from the classic modern movement, including emerging talents. While the exhibition will be international in scope (with works from classic abstract expressionist painters Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell to recent photographs by artists from Africa and the Middle East), it largely will emphasize many major California talents, like Helen Lundeberg, John McLaughlin, Edward Ruscha and John McCracken. This will be a rare opportunity for the public to see significant examples of modern and contemporary art that typically is kept behind closed doors, including two of the Martins’ prized pieces—“Albuquerque 9,” featured in abstract expressionist Diebenkorn’s first gallery show in 1952, and one of 10 line paintings created by Irwin in 1962.
“There are people in Orange County who are really enjoying the visual arts and collecting the visual arts, and most of it, in many cases, resides in private residences,” says Darrel Anderson, a local arts supporter and private investor. He and his wife, Marsha, have loaned OCMA eight pieces of figurative art and contemporary photography from the collection in their Newport Beach home. Among them are “The Last Word,” a print by Iranian video and installation artist Shirin Neshat, and a couple of photographs by Paris-based artists Pierre et Gilles (Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard). “We want people to know [art collecting] exists here,” Anderson says. “They know it exists in other major metropolitan areas and don’t think of it as being here because it’s such a young county. It isn’t New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, but people here do collect, and they collect wonderful things.”
This will be the first time since 1971 that the museum, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, has staged an exhibition of works drawn from local modern and contemporary art collections. Since that time, the art world has evolved significantly with more photography and a larger proportion of global, female and African-American artists, says OCMA Director Dennis Szakacs, who with the museum’s new chief curator, Dan Cameron, began compiling the show in February and spent months reviewing the county’s major postwar collections.
“It’s really a patchwork quilt of very specific works that Dennis and I responded to in people’s homes,” Cameron says. “At the very end of the process, when we had gone through every home, we sat down and said to ourselves, ‘What did we look at and what type of exhibit can we make of this?’ … When collectors make the decision to pull the trigger and invest in major artwork, what do they select and what are the things they want to live with every day of their life? It gives a kind of peek into people’s private domains and also presents an almost coherent overview of the last half-century of art-making.”
The pair ended up choosing about 70 works from among hundreds of pieces. Those works will be showcased in nine rooms, each with separate focuses, including abstract and figurative expressionism from the 1950s; lyrical abstractions; and pop art and photographic work from Brazil, Iran and Paris, Cameron says. Several ancillary events also are planned for the exhibition, including panel discussions, collectors and curatorial evenings, and Third Thursday after-hours programs. OCMA’s Guide by Cell audio tour will feature several collectors describing what struck them about a particular work on view.
“This is an amazing opportunity to view works that the public never gets to see,” Szakacs says. “The public can see how people live with modern and contemporary art, and how it is an essential part of their lives, and hopefully it will encourage others to get involved with collecting and supporting the arts community.”