January 5, 2019

henry at the descanso
Outdoor Exhibit at Sturt Haaga Gallery at the Descanso Garden, 12/30/18 (ink and black colored pencil on mixed media paper)

I found myself at the Descanso Garden once again a couple days before New Year’s Day. No real surprise there! My son and I wandered about and then looked at the exhibit they have at the Sturt Haaga Gallery. It was a cool afternoon, so I did this one at home later from a photo I took. My hands were just too cold, even with fingerless gloves, to control the pen and pencil plein air. We later returned to the garden on New Year’s Eve to take in the Enchanted Forest light display. It’s funny, but I wander around that place so often it feels like it’s my garden and that often takes me to a place where I wonder why there are so many people in my yard.

The Sturt Haaga Gallery is tiny and sometimes their display doesn’t interest me in the least and I can slip through there, having looked at everything, in under 5 minutes. In fact, there have been times I have lingered at one or two displays, reading the artist’s title/description, just to keep from leaving in under a minute. But I never miss the opportunity to check out what is in there, just in case something catches my eye or my imagination. I like that the gallery’s mission is to educate and it “seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences that are represented by the garden.” The display they have now is called La Reina de Los Angeles and artist displays related to art and science can be found inside the actual gallery building as well as all over the garden. I have actually popped into the gallery several times to look at one particular installation. (I will describe that piece later on…) I think I forgot to mention that La Reina de Los Angeles is all about water and waterways in our sometimes-parched landscape and it will be at the Sturt Haaga Gallery until January 13. According to the volunteer docent I chatted with on Thursday, after the 13th it will close for a month while the next exhibit is set up. She didn’t know the theme of the upcoming gallery exhibit.

What you are looking at here is part of the La Reina de Los Angeles “outdoor” exhibit and features some pieces of an old aqueduct called the Zanja Madre. In reading the description of the three aqueduct fragments displayed there, it seems that a brick and mortar aqueduct was used to bring water to the tiny town of El Pueblo de Los Angeles from 1781 to 1904. (Crazy to imagine LA being very tiny.) But I guess remnants of the aqueduct were unexpectedly dug up in Chinatown in 2014 and someone decided to save, and preserve, as much of it as they could. Considering the gallery’s mission statement is a blending of art with science, I am not sure if such a structure should be considered art. I get the science angle, but wonder if it’s more archeology and these are artifacts and not art. (If you can get over there before the exhibit closes you can decide for yourself their artistic value.)

Another outdoor artistic installation I have rather enjoyed involves some music that you can hear outside the gallery. An experimental artist, who is also a violinist, created the sounds/music you can experience there right now. It seems that he stood in the LA River, under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, capturing ambient sounds of the waterway. Then he added his “original” violin music as well as some “sonic effects.” The first time I heard the music I was on the hill behind the gallery. I thought a concert was underway on the grassy lawn area down below me. But I soon discovered a couple speakers in the rooftop garden of the gallery and realized the music/sounds were coming from there. I actually think it’s rather dark and strange, but cool sounding. I think that stems from my general love of the melancholy and such sounds make me feel so sad, but in such a lovely way.

Of all the various exhibits that are part of La Reina de Los Angeles I have described here two of the three parts that I have enjoyed most. I have one more to tell you about, and it is inside the building. It’s called Blue McRight and it is a 12 by 8 by 1.5 foot bookcase that vertically fills most of a wall in one room. In the wooden bookshelves are used books, vintage bronze faucets and sprinklers, and black rubber hoses. Some of the faucets have been attached to a couple books and some of those faucets are connected to hoses that have been attached to sprinklers on the floor in front of the bookcase crammed with books. It’s clear, upon entering the space that it’s a bookshelf completely filled with books. But if you look closer at all the books you will notice that all the book spines are black, white or cream colored, as well as various shades of sea green and blue. And if you get even closer you will notice that all book titles are related to water/ice, rivers, ocean and/or river/ocean creatures, boats etc. It seems to have something “water related” for everyone here. The afternoon my son and I were there we even noticed some guy taking books off the shelf to look at them. We were both in shock at his art effrontery. Did he think he was in a lending library? His library card should definitely be revoked! Where is a volunteer gallery docent, or reference librarian, when you need one?

So, I have carefully described three parts of the exhibit that I personally enjoyed. But several of the artist installations that contributed to La Reina de Los Angeles were just not my cup of tea. So, I thought the bigger story here was really that it is OK if you don’t like everything you see at an art gallery. In fact, it’s OK to not like anything you see. But I think it’s important to try to look at everything before you make that decision. Even though we, as artists, are extremely diverse, I think that kind of thought process is very common among my artist brethren. We try to look at someone else’s work with an open mind, ready to like any or all parts of what we see. And if we see nothing to our liking, we still walk away with an appreciation of what the artist was trying to convey in his or her work.

Of course I got to thinking more about artists and how diverse we are. In fact, we might be the most diverse single group of people on the planet. Diversity seems to be in the news a lot these days, as though some people are afraid of others that seem too diverse, too different from themselves. It seems that some want us to be more alike, so we won’t seem so dangerous or scary. But I think there is a “diversity” lesson for all of us to be learned from artists. And I think the best way to describe what I mean is the fact that even though I wasn’t drawn to all of the exhibits at the Sturt Haaga Gallery right now, I am thankful for all the people who participated.

Here is an example of a group of random artists interacting. Last evening one of my sketching groups met at the Norton Simon to sketch. It is typical for this group to start showing up at 5. Our little groups of one or two people begin sketching what interests us the minute we enter the place. Some go outside to paint in the garden, some head for a favorite painting or painter, some go downstairs to the Asian sculpture room and some check out the exhibit room that changes periodically. Last night I found myself doing pencil and ink sketches of a number of small Degas bronzes for the first part of the evening. As usual, by 6:30 we meet in the main lobby to share what we have drawn/painted. Then as a group we do something together and meet back in the lobby at 7:30 for a “throw down.” I have described a “throw down” in a previous blog, but will describe it here again. It’s when we each pick something that we think was particularly satisfying or successful and place in on a bench. Then we talk about what we did and share the materials we used. This might seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s really not. You put yourself in a very vulnerable place, like maybe you are thinking that what you have created isn’t that great, or you wish your art looked like someone who has more experience. And oh yes, there are always a couple “ringers” in our get togethers and it’s hard not to compare your amateur work with someone who gets paid regularly for his or her artwork. But this is where our diversity shines through and instead of people being smug and telling you why they are better and you are worse, we all look around together and pat each other on the back—the beginners, intermediates and the advanced artists. People make comments about everyone’s piece, saying things like I love your composition; I like the way you worked so loosely, or your layering of shades of green on the trees was great. Finally, after we have gone around and shared our work we stand together and take a group photo of all of us holding up our work. Wow! Those moments are so powerful, right? And maybe we were all expected to paint the same thing or do a piece of a whole, then put them together. That kind of group activity never seems to work out either because someone may want to paint the sculpture of an elephant he or she passed by and not the winged creature from 3rd century Pakistan. And that’s always OK and appreciated. As artists we are the textbook definition of diverse, but somehow we know it’s important to hang together on some level. And we appreciate each and everyone’s artistic spirit and the right to express it however we please. And I love knowing that there are artists out there that I will never meet or understand, but am thrilled to know they are out there…somewhere…creating art, just like me. No more to be said.

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