If you love museums as I do, I always suggest joining your local favorite(s). And, if you can, getting an upgraded membership such as the one I have with the Oakland Museum. It’s nice to support a much-loved museum, but it also could get you up into the North American Reciprocal (NARM) level. With my membership, a guest and myself have free access to hundreds of participating museums in the U.S. and Canada. Before I hit the road, I start at NARM’s site and see what museums will be nearby and what special exhibits are taking place.
With that in mind, I found myself in Newport Beach, California on Saturday. Away from the beach, it’s a land of sterile office parks and condominiums where signage is discreet and tasteful. The museum would have been impossible to find without GPS. But it was worth the effort.
When I realized I had an opportunity to see a new show of Fred Tomaselli’s work at the Orange County Museum of Art, I knew I’d have to head south as part of my L.A. weekend. Back in the 1990’s San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts hosted one of the best exhibits they have ever had – it was a big show of Tomaselli’s mixed media paintings/collages. The work incorporated thousands of prescription and non-prescription pills as well as hemp leaves all encased in resin. That was an amazing show.
The current show, Fred Tomaselli: The Times, fills three rooms and is dominated by a newer direction in his work that began in 2005. Starting with a front page of the New York Times, the artist modifies the photo by adding paint and occasional collage elements. The original black and white photos are enhanced with vivid, color details. The results range from the abstract to geometric patterns, to occasional representational images. All contained within the boundaries of the original photo. The modified front pages are then digitized and reprinted, to finalize and preserve the pieces done on unstable newsprint. The results are often beautiful, even when addressing serious, front page news. For example, the Hurricane Katrina piece makes New Orleans appear to be inundated by a colorful flood that looks like a mass Sol Lewitt installation. The pieces seem to work in part because they remain on the pages of the New York Times, rather than removed form their original context. And surrounded by the original stories, the gravity of the subject matter never seems trivialized even with the colorful art.
Living in San Francisco and seeing some of the exhibits that pass through as over-hyped, blockbusters shows I remain baffled why we, here in the big city, are not getting shows like this one. I feel confident predicting that Fred Tomaselli’s work is of the caliber where big crowds will line up to see it in museums — a century from now. In the meantime, we get to see it in quiet exhibits and wait for what comes from him next.
I also need to mention a smaller and complimentary show that is also at the museum right now. Dieter Roth’s Piccadillies is a series of work beginning in 1969 where the artist took a single postcard of London’s Piccadilly Circus, blew it up and made multiple prints. Each print was the basis for a new abstract painting with layers of paint that at times follow and mostly obscure the original image. Seeing an individual piece would be interesting. The opportunity to have a gallery filled with them and observing the work as a series is the best way to see Roth’s work.
If you’re in Southern California, you’d better hurry, as both shows close on May 24, 2015.