New Gallery for Descanso Gardens
Descanso Gardens in La Canada-Flintridge has announced plans for a Frederick Fisher-designed art gallery, to be named after donors Heather Sturt Haaga and Paul Haaga. Fisher will be repurposing the former garage of newspaper tycoon Manchester Boddy and adding a vine-clad structure behind it, built into a hillside. The Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art is expected to be completed in March 2010.
Descanso's current art offerings lean toward Sawdust Festival-friendly landscapes and florals. Most of the art is for sale. The choice of Fisher as architect hints at greater ambition. Or does it? The press release leaves the options open:
“The Sturt Haaga Gallery’s mission will be to inspire a new appreciation of nature as seen and interpreted through the eyes and hearts of visual artists” says David Brown, executive director of Descanso. “While we will continue the Descanso tradition of offering first-rate, original work for sale at accessible prices, we will also invite nationally and internationally recognized artists to come to the Gardens to exhibit their work in solo shows, group shows and thematically-curated exhibitions.”
To put the most positive spin on it, this could mean they're edging towards a program like that of New York's Wave Hill. Like Descanso, Wave Hill is a public garden above all and a historic home secondarily. Art exhibitions come in a distant third. At Wave Hill, the exhibitions relate to the natural setting and to the theme of gardens generally. That's not an unreasonable mission in a city with a surfeit of art venues and a scarcity of expansive gardens. Wave Hill's exhibitors are serious "emerging" artists working in the idiom of serious contemporary art. That hardly describes Descanso's current art program. It will be interesting to see how — or whether — it changes.