Los Angeles

Tenth All City Art Festival

Barnsdall Art Park / LA Municipal Gallery

As a city-organized art event, playing host to some 2,000 entrants, with handsome prize money ($6,000, donated by Home Savings and Loan), open to all who submit, the show at Barnsdall is unique, now that the County Museum has abandoned the Annual Exhibition of Artists of L. A. and vicinity. Such an exhibition should be a vigorous cross-section of current work in the area. It is not. Why it is not prompts some questioning and reflection. The jury, Sergei Bongart, Richard Haines, Sueo Serisawa, is a respectable company, certainly, chosen to represent different points of view. Some confusion about the distribution of the prize money was settled by allowing each juror to select 20 works, then to make a small cash award in each medium—oil painting, sculpture, watercolor, graphics—totaling $1,000. Thus each had freedom to express his preference. This system worked quite well, and narrowed the field down to 60 as “best of the show.” The balance of the prize money remained for purchase awards. The donor had received the right to choose the person who made these awards. He chose Millard Sheets. Let us consider his awards. Edgar Ewing’s The Anvil is a strong painting in red and black in which the image is shattered with force and urgency. Frank Williams’ New Mexico Road is a refined landscape/abstraction in a style currently much in favor. Joshua Meador’s Restless is a banal sea-scape, rocks and waves painted without conviction. Lela B. Schade’s Bid the Whole Earth My Grace is a pretentiously titled genre painting complete with “local color.” (A hit, a walk, and two strikes, so far; what a ball game!) Robert Frame’s Blue Still Life celebrates vibrant color in a ritual of studied simplicity. Roger Kuntz’s Freeway Diagonals is one of a series which has aroused much enthusiasm, which I cannot share. Susan Hertel’s Interior With Sleeping Dog is Vuillardesque. Lui-Sang Wong’s watercolor Ballerina has initial impact (“calligraphic”) which soon dwindles (a kind of Oriental Rorschach). David Kahn’s watercolor Night Pier is pedestrian. In addition, Home Savings and Loan purchased Millard Sheets’ watercolor The Rock.

Certain tendencies begin to emerge. Where is the much-touted renaissance of figurative painting? Of the purchase awards, only three have anything to do with the figure: Ballerinas is so abstracted as to be figurative in title only; Bid the Earth etc. is sentimental at best; Interior With Sleeping Dog does indeed contain a figure, pushed into the upper left-hand corner, seen from above, removed, detached. Yet there were paintings which used figures significantly: David Schnabel’s Masquerade, a procession of totemic images; Arnold Mesches’ Masquerade at the Bar, dark, noisy; Malcolm Lubliner’s Elegy to Childhood, a skillful excursion into the attic of the heart, a very personal painting; Kalman Aron, John Paul Jones, Jack Stuck, Jerry Goss; there were others. But perhaps these were not suitable paintings to tour the offices of Home Savings and Loan? Perhaps the purchase awards were not made for the best or most significant works? And what about abstract, nonobjective painters? They were represented by a handful. A vigorous cross-section? Hardly.

Which leads us to consider the entrants. There were some notable absences. Do they resent being exhibited with rank amateurs and Sunday painters? There was much student work, much work by younger artists. The exhibition is an admirable showcase. Are some afraid they will not have star-billing? To hang a show this size with discernment and dispatch is a thankless task, but one done willingly. Do the missing artists lack good will? Or would they have submitted work under other circumstances? It has been suggested that the Municipal Art Department and the County Museum pool resources, with the museum furnishing funds for the prize money. It has been suggested that the Pasadena Annual be extended to include the entire area. Would this call forth a truer cross-section? Do the pressures of privately donated monies obviate true representation and convincing awards? When strings are attached, does one have puppets?

And what about the sculpture? It was undistinguished. Jack Zajac was represented by another goat; (does an image continue to have meaning if repeated without meaningful variation?) Ward Kimball’s construction The Apartment was fun to watch and I liked David Cressy’s stoneware Ladies Day. Ronald Grow’s Chrysalis lacked real punch.

Joan Hugo