Sunday, February 22, 2009
Huntington Goes Contemporary, in a Big Way
The Huntington has acquired a late (1980) Sam Francis painting, Free Floating Clouds, a gift from the artist's foundation. It has been installed in a room of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, set to open to the public on May 30. The Francis heralds a new push to show contemporary(ish) art of the blue chip/Cali kind. Free Floating Clouds will hang next to works by Richard Diebenkorn and Ed Ruscha, according to the press release (which doesn't say whether the latter are loans or accessions). The Francis isn't the Huntington's first non-objective painting. In recent years, it has acquired small abstractions by Robert Motherwell and Stanton McDonald-Wright. At 21 feet wide, Free Floating Clouds will rank among the largest paintings on view (indoors) in greater Los Angeles. It's a foot and a half wider than the same artist's earlier and critically esteemed Basel Mural I (1956-1958) at the Norton Simon Museum. It's half again as wide as James Ensor's famous Entry of Christ at the Getty, nearly a foot longer than David Hockney's Mulholland Drive at LACMA. Ruscha's Picture Without Words (in the lobby of the Getty Center auditorium) is two feet taller than the Huntington painting is wide. The Huntington Francis is dwarfed by Frank Stella's 50-foot-wide Agua Caliente in MOCA's permanent collection (don't hold your breath waiting for the next showing), and especially by Jan Styka's 195-foot Crucifixion (1897), which Forest Lawn Glendale manages to show daily, every hour on the hour (MOCA trustees, take note).
OK, size isn't everything. It might be an issue at the Huntington, which is doubling its space for American art at a time when supply is dwindling and Alice Walton is buying. Frederick Fisher's 2005 addition to the Scott Gallery debuted with an installation of the Huntington's British and Continental art. The grand manner portraits looked perfectly scaled to the rooms. Not many of the Huntington's American paintings are anywhere near that size.
Readers of the L.A. Times Culture Monster blog will be pleased to note Sam Francis' weirdest posthumous distinction: Donald Frazell likes him.