DESERT SUPPLEMENT 2014

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Hitting a Crescendo
steven biller

Artificial Rock #131
2013
Zang Wang

Two blocks west of Palm Canyon Drive–the main drag in the progressive resort town of Palm Springs–a shiny, stainless steel sculpture shimmers in the sun, triggering a measure of curiosity that summons passersby for a closer look. Those who take the detour toward Mount San Jacinto encounter Artificial Rock #131, which artist Zhan Wang fashioned after a “scholars rock” meant to inspire meditation in traditional Chinese gardens. Rising from a reflecting pool between two sets of steps leading to the main entrance of Palm Springs Art Museum, the sculpture is eye-catching and monumental–and the harbinger of the quality of the contents of the institution, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. In fact, Artificial Rock #131 was the first of a bounty of gifts to the museum to honor the occasion.

“Into the Future: New Gifts to Commemorate the Museum’s 75th Anniversary,” which opens January 25 and continues through May, includes works by Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha, Adolph Gottlieb, Jean Dubuffet, Sam Francis, and many others. The community previewed several gifts in “Galen at The Galen” (Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert), which continues at the satellite venue through January 13, and showcases works from the private collection of Helene Galen. The paintings by Milton Avery, Tom Wesselmann, Keith Haring; photographs by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand; and sculpture by Nick Cave will also appear in “Into the Future” at the museum’s main building in Palm Springs.

“Into the Future” represents all areas of the museum’s collection, including Native American (a Navajo Germantown Blanket, circa 1890), Western American (paintings by Homer Boss and Alexander Carter), modern (Gino Severini, Lee Krasner, Hans Hoffmann, Jean Arp, Roberto Matta, and Yves Klein), contemporary (Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Rauschenberg), studio glass (Klaus Moje and Dale Chihuly), photography (Vik Muniz, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jack Pierson), and architecture and design (Frank Gehry, Fernando and Humberto Campana, R.M. Schindler and Donald Wexler). The gifts have global appeal, and instill confidence among patrons who are driving the ascent of the museum, which despite its modest origins and remote proximity (about 100 miles from Los Angeles), has become a significant player in the Southern California art scene.

A PEAK SEASON
The anniversary comes with the major gala in March, the publication of books on the institution’s history and collection highlights, and a season-long schedule of events marking the occasion. But style hardly trumps substance.

The museum season opened in Palm Springs with “Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966,” which continues through Feb. 16. The show, which debuted at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, to much acclaim, examines the critical period between the artist’s return the San Francisco Bay Area in 1953 and his 1966 move to Los Angeles, where he taught at UCLA and painted his epic Ocean Park series. During the so-called Berkeley years, Diebenkorn switched abruptly from abstraction to figuration, retaining the spirit of one tradition and pushing the boundaries of another. In these works–boldly colored landscapes, interiors, female figures and still lifes–he found plenty of common ground between the two styles. The exhibition emphasizes this point, according to Palm Springs Art Museum Director Steven Nash, co-curator with Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Timothy Anglin Burgard.

In March, “California Dreamin’: Thirty Years of CollectingÓ opens in Palm Springs, showcasing works by Mark Bradford, Jim Isermann, Llyn Foulkes, Nathan Oliveira, and others acquired with funds raised by the museum’s Contemporary Art Council. “This is the first time these artworks will be shown in one exhibition,” says Chief Curator Katherine Hough, who joined the museum’s curatorial staff in 1975. “It’s a mini-survey of California art since the 1980s. By this time, it was recognized that New York was no longer the art capital it had once been, and as California’s social and cultural mix grew more diverse, different views of the state began to emerge.” The exhibition covers several indigenous movements: Bay Area Figuration (including Christopher Brown), Funk Art (William Wiley, Roy DeForest, Robert Arneson), Light and Space (Helen Pashgian), Pop (Ed Ruscha), and conceptual (Robert Therrien).

A CELEBRATION OF HISTORY
Amid the exhibitions and parties, the museum is also telling the story of its transformation from a natural science-focused destination to a full-fledged art institution. The museum, incorporated in 1938, opened in a one-room space in La Plaza in downtown Palm Springs; the programming emphasized natural science exhibits, lectures, and hiking excursions throughout the Coachella, north to Joshua Tree National Park and south to the Salton Sea. At the time, Palm Springs was a tiny desert town of fewer than 3,500 people (today, it has more than 46,000 residents), but was already attracting wealthy visitors from LA–some of which became donors.

The museum had a social cache, but precious little revenue. Benefactors saved it with an infusion of startup money and basic governance. The first membership drive netted 160 people eager to experience the museum’s 1940 reopening at Welwood Murray Library. Board presidents during this period included some of the most legendary names in Palm Springs–among them modernist architect Albert Frey (whose iconic house now belongs to the museum) and the city’s cowboy Mayor Frank Bogert. This era, which also included a move to an army surplus building, focused on natural sciences, as well as Cahuilla Indian artifacts and photography.

In 1958, E. Stewart Williams designed a 10,000-square-foot modular museum building on Tahquitz Canyon Way, beginning another chapter for the institution. A 1964 exhibition of paintings by Hans Burkhardt was one of the highlights at this location. A decade later, Executive Director Frederick Sleight and trustee Walter N. Marks launched a campaign for a new Williams building–the current one–whose angular design juxtaposed dramatically against the adjacent San Jacinto Mountains. McCallum Desert Foundation donated $1 million for the natural science wing, and Walter Annenberg gave $1.25 million to his namesake theater. Frank Sinatra was among the other donors, buying naming rights to the sculpture court. Board President Leonore Annenberg cut the ceremonial ribbon at the grand opening in 1976. The first exhibitions at this venue were “Photographing Earth From Outer Space,” on loan from NASA, and a show of optical-kinetic artwork by Yaacov Agam. The museum eventually added a Western American Art Wing, sending the staff into a new administration building.

FOCUSING ON ART
The beginning of a slow end to natural sciences at the museum came, in a positive fashion, in the 1950s, when former Mayor and then-museum trustee Philip Boyd championed a wildlife sanctuary in nearby Palm Desert. His idea grew into The Living Desert in 1979, operating independently from the museum.

Meanwhile, the concerted movement toward fine art began in 1967, with the museum’s embrace of a collecting focus. Trustee Joseph Hirshhorn, who chaired the acquisitions committee, wrote the first collection plan, and donated a gouache on paper by Alexander Calder. His gift was followed by a donation of a painting by Milton Avery. An exhibition of modern sculpture from the Weiner Family Collection–which recently gifted a Jean Arp bronze to commemorate the 75th anniversary–punctuated a progressive and sophisticated new era. Other noteworthy exhibitions in
this period included “Four Centuries of European Master Works” and a retrospective of desert landscape paintings by James Swinnerton, the popular early 20th-century cartoonist and Southwest painter, who had a studio in Palm Springs and a home in neighboring Cathedral City in his later years.

The museum’s first major gift of art came in 1994, when interior designer and art collector Steve Chase donated $1.5 million for another new wing, along with 132 works of contemporary art. Williams came out retirement to design the space, which opened in 1996. Chase’s unprecedented artwork donation emphatically shifted attention away from natural science, triggering several years of debate among the leadership. Finally, in 2005–two years before Nash took over as executive director–Palm Springs Desert Museum became Palm Springs Art Museum.

In 2007, Nash organized “Picasso to Moore: Modern Sculpture From the Weiner Collection,” showcasing several works that were in storage for more than two decades, including the surrealist Stringed Figure (1939) by Henry Moore, who had seven other pieces in the exhibition. “The Henry Moores are the strength of the [Weiner] collection,” Hough says, noting her favorite: the 1956 Reclining Figure. “It captures the best of Henry Moore, in my opinion, with a wonderful balance of the figurative, abstract, and landscape.” The piece de resistance was the Amadeo Modigliani Head (1910-11) made of limestone culled from the construction of the subway in Paris. Modigliani made eight heads from the material. The Weiners found theirs at Knoedler Gallery in New York. Meanwhile, in a main-floor gallery across from the sculpture exhibition, Nash installed Bill Viola: The Crossing (1996), which had a presence akin to the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It drew people with great ease–and froze them in place. The regeneration-themed content worked as a metaphor for the museum itself.

With the museum’s top-to-bottom facelift–including hardwood floors and brighter, more open exhibition spaces–and sharp focus on art, board chairman Harold Meyerman’s plan to achieve financial health, renovate the main building, and recruit a well-respected director was coming to fruition. “To be great, we must be as an institution that manages its business well,” Meyerman explains, noting that the museum has also ballooned its endowment to almost $20 million. “Our supporters expect the museum to be managed well. If we are successful at that, we can attract financial support, and it will instill confidence in collectors who can donate art.” He adds that bringing in Nash “in turn attracted [Deputy Director for Art and Senior Curator] Daniell Cornell, who has added greatly to our curatorial strength and reputation.” The leadership, which remains in place for the museum’s 75th anniversary, has given the facilities, collections, exhibitions, and educational programming a fresh shine.

In the past few years, the museum has expanded its collection through purchases and seismic gifts, including one celebrated in the exhibition “The Passionate Pursuit: Gifts and Promised Works from Donna and Cargill MacMillan, Jr.” consisting of more than 100 contemporary paintings, sculptures, design objects, and works on paper by 75 historically significant artists. “It is hard to overemphasize the dramatic importance of the MacMillan gifts,” Nash says. “The amazingly deep and varied collection of contemporary art marks a turning point in the museum’s history.” The museum has also mounted several world-class exhibitions, including “Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting;” “Against All Odds: Keith Haring in the Rubell Family Collection;” “Richard Avedon: Fashion, Stage, and Screen;” and “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography 1945-1982,” one of the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time shows that permeated cultural institutions throughout the region.

In addition to the acquisitions and exhibitions, two new venues punctuate the forward-thinking direction of the museum. Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert–with 8,400 LEED-certified square feet of galleries and classrooms, and the four-acre Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden–opened in 2012. The spacious annex has helped expand the reach of the institution’s educational programs, especially in the underserved eastern Coachella Valley, and provided a more convenient location to entertain potential patrons who live in the nearby country club corridors. The exhibition “Rodin to Now: Modern Sculpture” inaugurated the space, which has since mounted a portion of “Beg Borrow and Steal,” the exhibition from the Rubell Family Collection that explored appropriation in contemporary art, as well as the Galen collection. In February, it opens the exhibition “Recline/Design: Art and the Aesthetics of Repose.”

A growing number of architecture and design enthusiasts are gravitating toward the museum’s modernism programming since its recent purchase of the 1960, E. Stewart Williams-designed Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan building on South Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. Restored by Marmol Radziner with the help of Williams’ original drawings and plans, as well as black-and-white pictures taken by Julius Shulman, the building will reopen next fall as the museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion, providing exhibition, program, and archive study space. It will be one of the only architecture and design museums in the US housed in a vintage modern building. Its basement will become a research library, and the museum store will be incorporated in and around the vault, which retains its original door.

“We’re hitting a crescendo,” Nash beams, “and we want to continue to give a quality experience with serious art and serious exhibitions.” With attendance, membership, and giving up significantly since he took charge, Nash is looking ahead. The Palm Springs Downtown Redevelopment Plan designates space for expansion across the street from the museum. “Our main building is inadequate for the exhibition and storage of our permanent collection,” he says, which affects its ability to absorb patronsÕ collections. “Future administrations will have to address the need for more space. I believe the addition of a new wing or a new building by an outstanding contemporary architect could become another endorsement of the museum’s role in the study and preservation of modern architecture. Architecture is part of the collection that will expand significantly in the next 10 years.” The 2012 exhibition “Steel & Shade: The Architecture of Donald Wexler,” exemplifies that mandate; it was also one of the museum’s most expensive exhibitions to mount, second only to the current Diebenkorn survey.

The next frontier, Nash projects, will emphasize technology, including live streaming of lectures, long-distance learning programs, sharing of electronically based artwork between museums, virtual tours on mobile devices, an access to information about permanent collections and exhibitions. “One’s mind can even embrace such notions as museum walls transformed into computer screens, walk-in virtual experiences of architectural monuments, and the ability to carry on conversations with artworks,” Nash says. “It’s exciting to contemplate the possibilities.”

High Desert Test Sites:
This fall, the innovative program based in Joshua Tree spanned the Southwest.
matthew irwin

A-Z West
Andrea Zittel
Photo: Jessica Eckert

The drive across the Southwest on I-40, or the more romantic Route 66, introduces travelers to vastly different high desert topographies, from barren flatlands to volcanic ruts, from colorful buttes to forested hills, to prickly meadows. These lands are home to such new monuments as Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Art Museum, James Turrell’s Roden Cra
ter
, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array–works of art and vision by masters and fools (“A wise man knows himself to be a fool,” the Bard wrote). For eight days in October 2013, this path across the Southwest was also home to more than 60 impermanent artworks, as well as a caravan of artists and art-lovers, for High Desert Test Sites.

Artist and designer Andrea Zittel has been experimenting with ways that humans can live symbiotically with the fragile ecosystems of arid wildernesses, having relocated to Joshua Tree from Brooklyn in 2000. She began with low profile, highly customizable living spaces on her Joshua Tree compound A-Z West and, just two years later, launched High Desert Test Sites in the California desert with four other artists to investigate the nexus between art and life in the region that, in the words of Mary Austin, “supports no man.”

For its ninth incarnation since 2002, HDTS left the safety of its homeland for the first time, following a crooked line of installations and performances to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unlike previous events, organizers employed an open call process that elicited around 300 applicants, in contrast to the expected 40 or 50. The eight-day event also coincided with the announcement that HDTS had received nonprofit status, a bittersweet achievement for co-founder Andrea Zittel, who had been funding HDTS herself.

“All of a sudden, we are spending huge percentage of our energy trying to figure out where this funding is going to come from, and how to ask for it,” Zittel says. “But the upside is that, as we gain fundraising skills, we will be able to help nurture artists who might not otherwise be able to work with us and to underwrite projects that would otherwise be out of reach.” Previously, artists supplied their own funding; though, HDTS provided microgrants to artists in 2013.

In 2002, Zittel, and her friends in the desert, launched HDTS to escape and disrupt the institutionalized art world. They turned their desert land holdings around Joshua Tree into outdoor exhibition spaces, or “test sites,” and invited artists to challenge conventions of property rights and patronage, to make art a part of a life, a landscape, or a community, to leave their work in the desert, and, importantly, to find meeting points for contemporary art and regionally specific social and artistic concerns. That first weekend in Joshua Tree didn’t go so smoothly for some of the participants. They steered off course attempting to navigate poorly marked dirt roads, they spun their tires in the ubiquitous sand and they stood nonplussed in front of conceptual pieces they didnÕt know how to contextualize.

Eleven years later, the disorder has become a part of the fabric of HDTS–an anecdote relayed by attendees, but also a measure of success for Zittel, who notes that the confusion forced LAÕs arterati to interact with local landscapes and local people. “My sense is that all of these challenges were actually a good thing,” Zittel says. “They ultimately resulted in a feeling of openness, generosity, camaraderie, as well as a breakdown of the hierarchy which is so often acutely felt in more typical art world events.”

By 2011, however, the desert had seen a significant population growth, augmented by a new military base, dedicated to training marines for combat in the Middle East. The terrain had became too familiar, and so had the people. Zittel, by then the only active founder, had inadvertently brought LA into the desert. However, she had also hired the ambitious Aurora Tang as her managing director (HDTS’s first paid administrator), and the two did what anyone would do when she feels stuck. “Aurora and I are both fans of epic road trips,” Zittel says. “Our event this October spanned over 700 milesÉ to reach out into unknown territory, to challenge both ourselves and our audience, and to rekindle the more intimate nature of our original events.”

The work at HDTS 2013 was difficult to define, and the definitive moments almost slipped by without notice. Take, for instance, The Secret Restaurant by Bob Dornberger and Jim Piatt. It’s a metal box buried armpit deep in the sand, stocked with cooking equipment. Participants followed GPS coordinates to a random stop on a dirt road, walked a few hundred feet to the restaurant, then waited (and waited) as Dornberger prepared bacon and eggs. The bacon was sweet and meaty, the eggs fluffy, and the conversations abundant. But as sated art-lovers shuffled back to their cars a uniformed US Forest Service passed by, asking for directions. Word is he pulled out his GPS to demonstrate that the restaurant was on BLM land. Another GPS suggested otherwise, so the debate went unresolved for the time being. Keep in mind this was during the government shutdown: A more appropriate performance couldn’t have taken place if it had been staged.

If Secret Restaurant is an art of the everyday, then Pascual Sisto and Joey Jensen’s Sighting comes from the World of Tomorrow. The artists used colored LEDs and projections to create the illusion of a shifting rock face. Again, participants had to drive deep into the desert, this time at night, over a rolling dirt road that nearly caused one overeager driver to flip end over front when he decided to speed to the head of the line. The scene was like a Burning Man rave with glow-in-the-dark cocktails, and the audience whoa’ed when the rocks began to move. A number of glitches in the projection and the audio raised the question, intentional or not, whether technology, which requires reliable power and electronic equipment, is compatible with nature.

Secret Restaurant and Sighting both took place in the Joshua Tree area, before the caravan had started making its way to Albuquerque. They don’t exactly represent all 60 pieces that made up the weekÑnor the many permanent installations along the route–but everything could be said to fit somewhere between them. They also set the expectation that the work would be decidedly site-specific, off the beaten path and temporary. “For the most part I think that [HDTS 2013] was incredibly successful, as each project was intimately grounded in its own location,” Zittel says. “Some of the obvious drawbacks had more to do with logistics, such as the fact that on some days there were more projects then could be fully taken in.”

For this reason, the organizers discussed shortening the duration of HDTS for 2015, but all voted in early December in favor of another full eight days. This time the caravan will head up to an undetermined location in Utah. The committee resolved, however, to abandon the open call because it took them way too long, with their current resources, to process all the applications, and because, frankly, they’d like to be more selective. “We are hoping to work with artists who are more specifically drawn to our mission, or who have relationships to the locations on our route,” Zittel says.

Though artists, locations and other points of interest will help determine that route, it could run through, or at least near, that most notorious of desert test sites, Las Vegas, where it might be said, again quoting Mary Austin, “not the law, but the land sets the limit.” Austin was referring to topographical boundaries; nonetheless, the desert invites all manner of master and fool determined to make a life there, whether by force or by adaptation. HDTS measures the difference between the two.

ARIDTOPIA:
The desert is a state of mind in Tyler Stallings’ new book of essays. art ltd. asked Stallings to describe his project, and to define the philosophy behind his “aridtopian” vision.

The essays in “Aridtopia: Essays on Art & Culture from Deserts in the Southwest United States” represent a state of mind born in an arid region. It is a book that is both manifes
to and commentary. The writing style is a mash-up of references to popular culture, academic discourse, and speculative ideas about society. An Aridtopian approaches water as today’s gold. An Aridtopian recognizes that the desert is a setting for so much that co-exists unexpectedly: survivalists, military bases, legacies of Native American and settler conflicts, water wars, love for open vistas, and full of people who go there to experience the desert’s openness in order to reconnect to the vast, cosmic spaciousness beyond this planet.

The airiness between vegetation, mountains, and even people allows room for the mind, soul, and spirit to wonder. For centuries, spiritual seekers have gone into the desert. The openness allows for secrecy too. Doomsayers will sometimes set up their fortresses there, while the military will establish secret operations too.

Since arriving at University of California, Riverside seven years ago, I’ve had an opportunity to explore the nearby Mojave, Sonoran, and Colorado Deserts. While a magnate for creative types since the 1960s, a plethora of artists and musicians have been moving to Joshua Tree since the 1990s. Some want the opportunity to own a piece of land and spread out, while others view desert solitude and self-sufficiency as beneficial to their artistic practice. In the JT area, you will find artists who explore the 400-square foot Jackrabbit Homestead cabins in Wonder Valley; who take sound baths at The Integratron; who participate in the annual High Desert Test Sites site-specific, desert projects; who take tours of an urban warfare, mock village at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms; and who traverse the perimeter of the Salton Sea.

Over the years, I’ve written about the impact of hearing whistles throughout the day and night in Riverside from successive trains carrying goods from Long Beach ports to the rest of the country; to listening to the imperceptible sub-sonic sounds with special instruments around Area 51; to the science-fiction like terraforming of desert land into new developments; to viewing empty and full swimming pools as sites of masculine reconfigurations; to tracing a new golden age in the aerospace industry as entrepreneurs near Edwards Air Force Base invent new means for transporting private citizens into space at a low-cost; to the sacred geography of mountains and rocks that resonate still with living Cahuilla people and also inspire contemporary artists.

My inspiration for engaging with the desert began when the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) Desert Studies was launched in 2009 by UC Santa Barbara professor Dick Hebdige in association with UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Graduate Center. He had also consulted with Bruce Ferguson at Arizona State University who started an artist-based Desert Initiative program. Their idea–and it is a concept that has remained with me–was to view the world differently through an artistic lens and from the perspective of its numerous deserts, rather than its oceans, forests, or jungles. Hebdige has since returned to UC Santa Barbara, while Ferguson went on to teach at the American University in Cairo; but the Desert Initiative program at ASU has continued in a different form, under the direction of Greg Esser.

Since then, I’ve been developing my thought experiment that I call “Aridtopia,” a speculative, secessionist community set in the southwest United States. The concept for this environmentally sustainable community in an arid region was inspired by
Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel, “Ecotopia.” That story’s setting is the secession of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California from the US in order to create what he called a “steady-state” society, a precursor to “sustainability.” His novel was one component that contributed to the development of a generation of environmental activists. I view “Aridtopia” as a kind of counterpoint by being set in a dry rather than wet region. The effect of the difference in settings can be profound: moving from lush vegetation where “life” is abundant and overwhelming to one in which naked, rock formations predominate, that is, “life’s” presence is precarious and subtle.

Since Aridtopia is a secessionist community, it develops its new society, in part, by repurposing what was left behind within its territory. I envision a vibrant sense of innovation, self-sufficiency, and the zeal of starting anew. In this light, perhaps the most multi-faceted adventure that I’ve written about was a multi-day driving trip through the Owens Valley for a piece on the centenary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. I wrote from the view that after secession, Aridtopia, which would encompass Los Angeles, would refuse taking water from the Owens Valley. However, what to do with the remaining hundreds of miles of aqueduct architecture? I explored the possibility of it being transformed into a pathway for sacred pilgrimage from Aridtopia into reconstituted Paiute lands in the valley. It is a proposal that signals a re-enchantment of human engineering.

In general, I do not despair about the state of today’s cultural life in these essays. Rather, I wear utopian glasses. I feel there is an opportunity in deserts to find a way to salvage society’s detritus, in order to make a better vision of life–whether for oneself, or across what may one day be a newly established border in the southwest United States for a new society called “Aridtopia.”

“Aridtopia: Essays on Art & Culture from the Deserts of the Southwest United States” is a forthcoming book of essays by Tyler Stallings, published by Blue West Books. Tyler Stallings is the Artistic Director at Culver Center of the Arts & Director, Sweeney Art Gallery, at University of California, Riverside, as well as a curator and writer.

Jennifer Bartlett
Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 Palm Springs Art Fair

Amagansett Diptych #7
2007
Oil on canvas
48″ x 96″
Courtesy of Richard Gray Gallery

Fiercely independent, Jennifer Bartlett may choose to paint within the lines on her canvas, but her work’s meaning bleeds beyond artificial boundaries. She was one of the first successful female painters to emerge from the epic 1960s modern art boom. At her alma mater, the Yale School of Art and Architecture, some of Bartlett’s instructors included artists Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jim Dine.

One of Bartlett’s most recognizable and premier works, Rhapsody, dates back to the mid 70s and is comprised of 987 steel plates that covered 150 feet in a large grid. Acclaimed art critic Roberta Smith wrote the foreword to “Rhapsody: The Story of the Mind in Action”–a tome based on a single, epic work. According to Smith, Rhapsody–like the 70s themselves–is hard to categorize. An enormous, multi-theme, multi-part painting which the artist worked on throughout the summer, fall, winter and spring–and upon completion–was exhibited at the esteemed Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City.

Known for monumental multi-canvas oil paintings, Bartlett uses meticulous gridlines that guide the viewer across otherwise familiar scenes. Overall, Bartlett’s work definitely reflects her Long Beach roots, using colors found in California’s varied and bold flora and brings to light the artist’s appreciation for the ocean.

In February of 2000, Jennifer’s good friend, writer Joan Didion, wrote a powerful essay on the artist’s work, which was included in a catalogue focusing on her 90s series, Earth. In this body of work, the viewer peers into an interior view of a common room, which at the onset appears as innocent as that of a doll’s house. But thick layers of paint skew the scene and shift one’s sense of reality. A second glance reveals a darker tone, as the furnishings seem to meld and the dancing figures suddenly turn sinis
ter. It seems appearances really can be deceiving after all.

A retrospective titled “Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe– Works 1970-2011” recently opened at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in 2014 will travel to the Parrish Art Museum, organizer of the exhibit.

Bartlett currently resides and works on the East Coast but her works can be viewed world-wide, ranging from exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and across the pond at the Tate Gallery in London. Her work is also included in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among others.

As recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Palm Springs Fine Art Fair, attendees will be treated to a 50-year history of this mesmerizing artist’s work.