Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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 Below: “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, by Mineo Mizuno.

Published in Visual Arts

Western Stories is a simple yet perfect title for the newest exhibit at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The show, which will be on display through Sept. 4 of next year, references historical relationships between people and the land. The works move us away a bit from our preconceived notions of the West—heroic and filled with scenic grandeur, for example—to reveal sublime and multifaceted character tales.

“In juxtaposing how people connect to the landscape, through spirituality and the making of the Western icon, in showing cowboy and Indian themes, we encourage people to look and compare,” says curator Mara Gladstone.

“Roping a Prairie Wolf,” Charles Marion Russell’s watercolor and gouache on board, captures the moment when two cowboys are about to capture a wolf. The comradery and excitement between the cowboys, atop their horses on the blue-tinted prairie, reveals a little about the cowboy aura and life. It’s no surprise to learn that Russell himself was a cowboy—known as a storyteller through his images.

In William Robinson Leigh’s serene “Thunder Mountain,” an oil on canvas from 1910 or so, the viewer is struck by the brilliant, colorful sunlight hitting the mountains in the background and reflecting in a stream. One Indian man is seated in a meditative moment, while another meanders along the stream on horseback. Both men are eloquently weaved into the fabric of this scene. “This location is an important site for the Zuni people. It is a heaven on Earth and a safe haven,” Gladstone says.

Leigh and several other painters in this show were or are also illustrators. Another illustrative but more modern work, Bill Schenck’s “Cañon Sin Nombre,” an oil on canvas from 1985, is placed toward the end of this show, perhaps because the work combines several genres; Schenck is widely known for his photo-realist and pop stylizations of the West.

The Western Stories show also includes artifacts, letters, songs and a variety of other elements to show connections between people and the Western land. Indian women are depicted in several works, including “Fall,” Wendy Red Star’s archival pigment print from her Four Seasons series; it shows a seated woman whose beautiful wardrobe mimics the fall leaves surrounding her. In Walter Ufer’s oil on canvas titled “A Yearling,” the artist shows us a young horse reaching for milk beneath a mare while a Native American couple sits patiently on horseback (the man is atop the aforementioned mare) amidst majestic surroundings. Ufer painted many Taos and Pueblo Native American Indians in New Mexico, where he lived.

The galleries adjacent to Western Stories within the Denney Western American Art Wing are currently hosting compelling shows as well.

Reflections on Water has a more literal focus, as it displays various works that show both the substantive and symbolic importance of water in the West. In Montgomery Meets Modernism: Two Americas, actor George Montgomery’s self-made furniture and his collection of Western art are placed next to modernist paintings, furniture and photographs from the post-World War II period.

“In this new America, two parallel visual cultures emerged at the same time,” Gladstone explains. “The artworks reflect the kinds of ways people were thinking about the future. The new modern future and the post-World War II nostalgia for the traditions of the past were both emerging at the same time in Palm Springs.”

Montgomery Meets Modernism makes for a fun follow-up to Western Stories; the exhibits explore time periods that seem inherently dissonant—although they both tell tales that are uniquely Western.

The Palm Springs Art Museum is located at 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday through Tuesday; and noon to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday. Admission costs $12.50, with discounts; admission is free to all on Thursday after 4 p.m. and every second Sunday. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit

Above right: William Robinson Leigh, “Thunder Mountain,” ca. 1910, oil on canvas, collection of Palm Springs Art Museum, museum purchase with funds provided by the George Montgomery Acquisition Fund. First below: Walter Ufer, “A Yearling,” 1929, oil on canvas, collection of Palm Springs Art Museum, museum purchase with funds provided by the Western Art Council, General Acquisition Fund, Dr. Lawrence and Marcia Adams, Western Art Acquisition Fund and Rockefeller Western Art Acquisition Fund, 1993. Second below: Wendy Red Star, “Fall” (from the Four Seasons series), 2006, archival pigment print, collection of Palm springs Art Museum, gift of Loren G. Lipson, MD, © Wendy Red Star.

Published in Visual Arts