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The Palm Springs Art Museum is celebrating its 80th anniversary with an exhibition of 80 works of art recently added to its permanent collection. The exhibit showcases the wide-ranging collections the museum has acquired over the years since its founding as the one-room Palm Springs Desert Museum in La Plaza in 1938.

Back in those days, the museum focused on Native American artifacts, natural science and the local environment. After moving among several downtown locations, the museum opened a 10,000-square-foot location in 1958—with galleries to display art, marking its transition into an art museum.

Today, the natural science and environment section of the museum has evolved into a separate public entity, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The museum now has a satellite location in Palm Desert, and also operates the Architecture and Design Center, located in a classic mid-century building originally designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1961, on Palm Canyon Drive a few blocks from the museum and performance center.

I recently visited the main museum to view the Eighty @ Eighty exhibit—and I found it well worth a trip out in triple-digit temperatures. The 80 works on display, all either donated to or purchased by the museum within the last five years, offer a great overview of the museum's diverse collections.

In the central court, a playful standing mobile by Alexander Calder, “The Lizard,” 1968, is interestingly juxtaposed, with a contemporary assemblage of a shopping cart containing a hydraulic lift: “Shopper Hopper,” 2016, by Rubin Ortiz-Torres. The shopping cart symbolizes the working-class Latino, as well as the homeless, while the hydraulic lift is a common feature in upgraded lowrider cars.

Around the corner, a large abstract painting, “Untitled (P1304),” 2013, by Penelope Krebs, uses wide vertical stripes in different shades of blue to create a work that is both soothing and cooling—like stepping out of the hot sun and into the shade.

For Tom Fruin's “Flag: Farragut Houses,” 2013, the artist stitched together drug bags that he collected over a six-month period from a housing project in Brooklyn. The resulting quilt-like sculpture is a testament to the perils of life today.

At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese artist Mineo Mizuno's “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, is a study in serenity and balance. The nearly 5-foot-tall ceramic sculpture, in the shape of an elongated drop of water, changes shades gently, from white at the top to deep blue at its base.

One of the most evocative pieces is “Hand With Spot G,” 2001 by Douglas Gordon. The artist super-enlarges an instant photograph of his left hand. From a distance, I thought the dark spot in the center was a depiction of stigmata. However, upon reading the notes, I learned the image is taken from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In the book, a black spot is the mark of death.

The exhibit is dominated by large scale abstract paintings. There are also examples of 19th-century California landscapes, Native American ceramics, 20th-century photography, modernist chairs and a wide range of contemporary art.

“This recent-acquisitions exhibition was fun to organize in that it allows us to share stories about our collection through unexpected juxtapositions,” said Mara Gladstone, associate curator of the Palm Springs Museum of Art, in a statement. “Alongside our important Alexander Calder mobile is an interactive shopping cart sculpture by Ruben Ortiz-Torres. A muscular bronze by Jacques Lipchitz parallels a similarly powerful female figure by Alison Saar, and a glass house by Mildred Howard is adjacent to mid-century modern design by Verner Panton and an assemblage of kitchenware by Subodh Gupta. Many of these treasures haven’t been displayed before, and this installation showcases the historical strength of our collection and the exciting direction in which it is moving.”

There's time to experience this wonderfully eclectic exhibition before it ends on Sept. 16.

Eighty @ Eighty: Recent Gifts to the Permanent Collection is on display through Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission costs vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org. Below: “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, by Mineo Mizuno.

Published in Visual Arts

“Fundamentally antagonistic” is an appropriate phrase to use when describing the works of John Sloan and Alexander Calder, two celebrated artists who set benchmarks during the first 75 years of the last century.

Over the first half of the century, Sloan incorporated New York City’s energy with social commentary through his oils, drawings and prints. As a Sloan protégé, Calder learned to create highly detailed, technically exacting and subtly nuanced oils, prints and works on paper. Sloan’s influence was reflected in Calder’s early works. However, Calder did not imitate his teacher.

Shortly after graduating from art school, Calder—who had previously earned a mechanical-engineering degree—reinvented himself, in the process redefining sculpture. Sometime in the early 1930s, a Calder piece at a gallery exhibition announced his unique and highly personal aesthetic: One avant garde artist called it “mobile.”

About five years later, the artist re-branded himself yet again, and further broadened the definition of sculpture. Calder coined the word “stabile” when asked to define it.

Calder’s mobiles and stabiles demonstrated his unique ability to create unexpected artistic synergies. More specifically, he produced art that reflected his ability to leverage his creative right brain (art degree) concurrent with his analytic left brain (engineering degree).

While Calder is best known for the mobile and stabile, Calder’s creative output included both two-dimensional (paintings, fine art prints, works on paper, drawings) and three-dimensional works until his death in 1976. Often, there appears to be a “conversation” between works on paper and sculptures. In other words, a work on paper may be the basis for a sculpture, or vice versa.

The fantastic Calder show on display through May 30 at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert includes a number of stabiles and mobiles. Most are smaller and intimate, making Calder’s language and aesthetic more accessible.

However, the stars of this exhibit are Calder’s prints, drawings and works on paper. The Heather James team wonderfully organized a show that introduces Calder as a visual artist who moves seamlessly between two- and three-dimensional art.

The impact is most pronounced when facing the expansive wall at the back of the gallery. The entire space, from floor to ceiling, is populated with an array of strong Calder prints, drawings and gouaches. A first look at the wall can be overpowering. However, if one mentally breaks the wall into smaller groups of Calder’s works, understanding replaces overload. Almost all of Calder’s works on paper and prints do three things: They engage the viewer, require interpretation and are infused with humor and whimsy.

In “Le Petit Rouge” (upper right), a later gouache and ink on paper, the artist paints two four-legged animals: one red, and one blue. While painted clearly, what they are, exactly, is defined by the viewer. A jackal? A dog? Both have claws, not paws, as well as Doberman pinscher-like ears that might also be seen as horns. Lastly, the blue animal sports a grin reminiscent of that of the Cheshire Cat. However, is this grin playful or impish … or perhaps sinister?

Throughout his life, Calder remained fascinated with and inspired by the circus. A large number of his sculptures and works on paper contain circus-related themes, dating back to his years at the Art Students League. In the print “Circus,” the artist effectively synthesizes and encapsulates the energy, complexity and delight Calder found when visiting the big top, all without sacrificing his trademark palette of primary colors, plus black and white.

As expected, the ringmaster, much like the conductor of an orchestra or band, stands front, albeit just left center. Like a conductor, he is dressed in top hat and tails. However, the ringmaster here traded in his baton for a bullwhip. Swirling around the ringmaster is a horse, presented in red and outlined in blue, creating a sense of ongoing motion and flow without seeming forced. A clown in the bottom left foreground appears to be engaging the audience. A trapeze artist, clearly preparing to jump to a new swing, adds to the dynamic.

To reinforce the sense of motion, Calder—by adding two large red circles and a series of 12 broadly printed blue lines—creates the illusion of spotlights moving around the performance area. As in “Le Petit Rouge,” Calder’s horse smiles. There is also an irony: All of the human circus performers show no apparent emotion.

In “The Handstand,” a bronze created in 1944 (below), Calder conveys the sense of whimsy, imagination and fun with which he is associated. In keeping with Calder’s style, the artist leaves the viewer to determine the gender and age of the figure. However, this and another small sculpture, “Cheval II,” created during the same years, appear totally un-Calderesque. In sharp contrast to the simplicity and elegance associated with his mobiles and stabiles, these pieces seem like unfinished, rough first drafts that require significantly more work. They appear heavily influenced by Giacometti, with a roughness unexpected in a Calder work.

The Alexander Calder exhibition is on display through Monday, May 30, at Heather James Fine Art, located at 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com.

Published in Visual Arts

If you have not yet paid a visit to Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert, go now—while you still have the opportunity to enjoy the fantastic Warhol exhibition that’s on display at the gallery into April.

Andy Warhol’s works may very well be the most-recognizable art in the world. His parents were immigrants from Slovakia, and he was born in Pittsburgh; of course, he would go on to become one of the most controversial pop artists of all-time before his death in 1987. He turned ordinary objects into iconic symbols—celebrating the mundane as art.

His art is a perfect fit for Heather James Fine Art, which shows art in various genres from around the globe, including a lot of blue-chip works. The exhibit Andy Warhol: Paintings and Prints has been on display at the gallery since November.

“It was an honor and a pleasure to bring dozens of Warhol pieces to the Coachella Valley,” said curator Chip Tom. “He is one of few contemporary artists recognized worldwide. China, Russia, Africa—everyone knows Warhol.”

Warhol celebrated celebrities—and in doing so, he became one himself, thanks in part to his clever marketing tactics. I used to live in New York City, and I remember when Warhol would arrange for groups of photographers to follow his every move in public.

Heather James is not just showing the works of Warhol; the gallery is also presenting an exhibition of abstract art by five artists, each with an expressive style. One of those artists is Luc Bernard, a Canadian artist now residing in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. He began as an encaustic painter who created lush landscapes, but his style eventually evolved into abstraction.

Another artist, Betty Gold, a familiar name to the desert, is best known as a sculptor whose works in steel are collected all over the U.S. and Europe. Two of her huge works reside in front of the gallery’s garden space. David Hare (1917-1992) was also primarily known for his sculpture, but he also worked in photography and painting. He was a founding member of the Subjects of the Artist School in New York in 1948, along with Mark Rothko, William Baziotes and Robert Motherwell. Nice company! Speaking of nice company, Hare’s friends included Jean-Paul Sartre, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso.

The exhibit also includes the works of abstract expressionist painter Arne Hiersoux (1938-1983), and Norman Zammit (1937-2007), a pioneer of Light and Space, one of the most important art movements born in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

Another American artist, Alexander Calder (1898-1976), gets a gallery wall at Heather James dedicated to several of his works. He was famous for both his abstract art and his mobile sculptures. His mastery of bright colors and striking designs offers a real treat to the senses.

Finally, Salvador Dali—the Spanish artist who became synonymous with surrealism, and who was the subject of a significant exhibit at the gallery last year—retains a presence at the gallery, which continues to show some of his works.

Dali was a mere 12 years old when he enjoyed his first exhibition of charcoal drawings. He entered art school in 1922, and in the late ’20s, he met and then worked with Picasso, Miro and Magritte. He was introduced to America in 1934 by art-dealer Julien Levy and was an instant sensation. Dali was known as much for his eccentric behavior and attention-grabbing public actions as he was for his art—just like Andy Warhol. Therefore, it’s fitting to see their works together under the same roof.

Heather James Fine Art is located at 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com. Below: “Les Pyramides Grandes,” by Alexander Calder, color lithograph.

Published in Visual Arts