Los Angeles

“Dutch And Flemish Painting Of The Northern Renaissance”

La Jolla Museum Of Art

It has been noted—not without considerable misgivings—that the Art Center at La Jolla has ceased to function as such, closed its school and changed its title to the La Jolla Museum of Art. The decision to change and extend the scope of this institution is far more complex than the trustees may have realized, especially at this moment when the resources of the region are being strained to the utmost to provide not only new buildings and equipment, but also primary collections of a reasonable standard for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Pasadena Art Museum. What appears to have been overlooked at La Jolla is that the logistics of available energy, knowledge and material—resources in the broadest sense—is far more a determinant of the future pattern of development than ambition and goodwill. It could also be argued—without any strictures on La Jolla—that if, within the range of museum activities, certain efforts are repeatedly doubled up, the resources available will simply not be sufficient to go around. In the end it must lead to redundancy, dilution and even downright inferiority.

The idea of the public museum structured to exhibit and conserve great works of art is only a couple of hundred years old and there are a number of large and solidified institutions in this country involved purely in this area. One of the greater revolutions, in terms of museum activity in the modern sense, however, is as a training ground and an exhibiting center for current or relatively recent developments. That is primarily to inspire, inform and undertake the esthetic expansion and cultivation of the artist as well as the audience, and there is no more ideal format for this purpose than the Art Center, particularly around a metropolitan area some distance from a university. (It is interesting to note that the Foundation for the Museum of Modern Art of London, after exhaustive studies, has decided to adopt, in a rather more sophisticated form, the American art center format. That is, an exhibiting center without a permanent collection, combined with a non-degree graduate art school.) La Jolla now seems uncertain of its role; without a primary collection (other than a few inconsequential odds and ends of modern painting and sculpture) or a trained staff, it can hardly attempt the traditional museum role. And if this exhibition—Dutch and Flemish Painting of the Renaissance—is any indication of what we may expect from it in the future, then indeed, it is in serious trouble.

What the material exhibited amounts to is a number of paintings of the Dutch and Flemish Schools—some good, many mediocre and quite a few inferior—belonging to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They have been conveniently offered on brief loan to La Jolla in lieu of storage during the move to the newly built museum. But, inflated by its new title, the La Jolla Museum, not satisfied to exhibit these paintings as such, has instead borrowed one extra painting, a Franz Hals, and produced a lavish catalog with an introduction by Donald Brewer, the Director, which is—to say the least—as non-representative of the period as the paintings in the show. Claiming to be an exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Art of the Renaissance, the majority of the exhibition is Baroque art. Practically every painting is 17th century—there is not one van Eyck, van der Weyden, Memling, Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Brueghel in the show. In addition, Mr. Brewer, in his catalog, is full of misinformation. For example: “Unlike his Italian counterpart, the Flemish and especially the Dutch painter had no classic past and relatively little religious or historic tradition of his craft.”

1) There was frequent cross fertilization between Northern and Italian art. It began in the 1490’s and by the 17th century the classic tradition had been completely absorbed! 2) There was a long religious tradition! 3) The very craft of oil painting was invented in Flanders! To speculate or to pretend to information within the area of contemporary art is reasonable. We are too close to be certain. But to grossly misinform in the area of historical works is unforgivable. But even if we accept the exhibition as it stands, that is, Baroque art—it is qualitatively of such a low standard as to completely misrepresent a whole period of art. Not that inferior paintings cannot he used for what they are, provided this is pointed out, but to use them in so pretentious a way merely adds to the endless lowering of standards that besets every aspect of American education. We can hardly congratulate La Jolla for compounding the situation.

John Coplans