Los Angeles

Cedars-Sinai Fellowship Council Invitational

100 Leading California Artists

This exhibition of 1,000 works is imbued with charity. Organized by the Cedars-Sinai Fellowship Council with the unquestionably good intentions of raising funds, one is reminded that the attitude toward charity should be charitable. Therefore, it is not the misleading title, the hectic installation, or the seemingly endless rows of mediocre daubs that are most objectionable. What is intolerable is the considerable misrepresentation given to an exhibit that obviously encompassed little more than rounding up all available painting from Rancho La Cienega along with myriad flea-bitten strays, and a few Brahma bulls from Central and Northern California. After branding the whole inconsistent herd with the same iron, they were dutifully lead to the slaughter.

Quite rightly, an award was won by Richards Ruben for a large, beautifully textured canvas of somber blacks bound vertically by edges of blue and orange. An example of the my-canvas-never-ends school, it was challenged by several fine drawings by the same artist. Sam Francis was represented by a series of lithographs of poster-color purity, of which only a couple hint at anything approaching the intensity of his canvases. Belying the catalog’s claim of major works by major artists, the show demonstrated an amazing regularity in selecting minor works by major artists and major works by many minor ones.

Aside from the well-worn Feitelsons, Lundbergs, Baileys, Blairs, Burkhardts, McClellans, Wights, Chavez (and so on), who have varying degrees of stature in the Southern California milieu, the bulk of the artists represented fill that large vacuum often described as “competent.” The lesser quarter, however, was made up of amateur awkwardness scarcely worthy, and certainly unfairly included in any exhibit. By no stretch of the imagination can the majority of artists be considered California’s leading—assuming that leading artists

should lead something. In fact, almost all of those who do lead were not even in the exhibit or mentioned. (It is a fairly common condition that the area’s best do not often submit themselves to the injustices, absurdities, inconsistencies and atrocities of a juried competition, not to mention mingling with the work of amateurs.)

Actually, it is this third-rate quality that provides the. exhibit’s most fascinating aspects. With rare clarity, it brings to focus the remarkable tenacity with which the herd follows the sacred cows of art, relentlessly, imitating but learning nothing. For those interested, it brings to judgment the tedious cliches of most painting. These include meaningless impastos, senseless sgraffito, flagrant pastiche, ill-conceived use of smear, drip and blot, self-conscious “originality,” and desperate hassling with “new materials” and found objects that. probably had more meaning left where they were. The list is a long one.

But it is no longer amusing to speak of mediocrity in these auspicious terms:

“The fact that Los Angeles is, at the very least, the second major art center of the United States (which in turn is a world leader in artistic achievement) temptingly suggests that our Invitational Exhibit is of more than merely regional interest. The potential impact it can make on a community already resplendent with relatively new galleries, new museums, new artists, new buyers, new collections and a new and genuinely provocative artist-audience relationship, is tremendous. Far from being just another ‘charity fund-raising bazaar,’ the serious and uncompromising purposefulness of all those cooperating . . . has virtually guaranteed a standard of excellence in the many areas that an exhibition of this magnitude demands.”

Of those artists who justifiably contributed to California art, less than a handful were included. To capitalize upon the absent with such ill-advised thoughtlessness, to utilize their accomplishments and respect, to mislead and beguile an audience by misrepresenting the directions and sensibilities of all that is valuable in California painting seems unnecessarily pernicious. If the exhibit had done what it pretended to do, then, indeed, there would have been an infinitely worthwhile contribution, and the quality of Charity would not have been so unhappily strained.

Clair Wolfe