Mike Boehm profiles the Orange County Museum of Art in the Los Angeles Times to dispel some of the bad impression created by the controversy over the museum’s private sale of 18 plein air paintings. The museum was chastized by a number of other Museum’s directors for not offering the works to sister institutions, especially the museum with which it shared a tangled history. Here are the highlights but be sure to click through to the Times for the full story:
Until June 15, when The Times first reported the sale, OCMA was known primarily for projecting a long reach for a small museum. Eight exhibitions launched from its hidden-away, nondescript quarters on a side street — or organized in collaboration with others — had toured 24 cities since Szakacs’ arrival in 2003 from New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art. OCMA’s curatorial brainchildren went to Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, Houston and lower Manhattan.
Under Szakacs, “they have done as fine work as they have done in their history, and have garnered national attention again,” said Paul Schimmel, chief curator of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Schimmel helped write an admired chapter in OCMA’s history as its curator during the 1980s, when it was known as the Newport Harbor Art Museum. “I think highly of what they’ve been doing, and I did not think that 10 years ago,” he said. […]
OCMA has had to pull back. It has suspended a campaign to fund a new building in a far more prominent spot next to the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Two years after peaking at $5.1 million, the budget has been shaved to $3.6 million, and the exhibition schedule has been halved to five a year. But the museum continues to run deficit-free, said Szakacs (pronounced Sake-us), still thinks big and plans to spend a record $800,000 to mount next year’s highly anticipated “Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series.” […]
The paintings were part of that town’s “patrimony,” Davies noted, because they dated from its beginnings as an art colony, and most had been in the Laguna Art Museum’s collection for decades. But in 1996, a financially driven merger with the Newport Harbor Art Museum transferred the Laguna collection to the newly launched entity, OCMA. The union quickly came undone, amid lawsuits and outrage from Laguna residents, who felt their museum had been stolen. The merged collections were shared under a negotiated settlement until 2004, when Szakacs says he sought to end lingering tensions by sending more than 3,000 works back to Laguna. The 18 California Impressionists were not included. […]
Weary of seeing OCMA tethered to the Laguna Art Museum in news reports because of their long-ago entanglement, Szakacs would rather point to how the museum has cultivated young audiences, how annual attendance grew from 20,000 just before he arrived to 55,000 and 50,000 in the last two fiscal years, how shows OCMA launched have landed on critics’ annual best-of lists in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, and how the museum’s November 2007 retrospective on painter Mary Heilmann landed on the covers of two top art magazines, Artforum and Art in America.
OCMA’s Quiet Sale of 18 Paintings Raises Hackles (Los Angeles Times)