Irvine Reveals "Best California Art Collection No One Has Seen"

Helen Pashgian, untitled, 1968; Lita Albuquerque, Increments of Time #3, 1990; Ester Hernández, Sun Mad, 1982. All, Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art

Anyone curious about the Gerald Buck collection—said to be the best California art collection no one has seen—ought to follow the Instagram account of UC Irvine's Institute and Museum of California Art. They're posting images from the Buck trove, many never exhibited or published. Buck bequeathed his collection to the university.

Irvine showed 50 highlights of the Buck collection in 2018. That was only an amuse-bouche, as the collection is said to include 3200 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. 

Also in the IMCA collection are the 1300 plein-air paintings assembled by Joan Irvine Smith and displayed on rotation in her former Irvine Museum. UC Irvine plans to unite the two collections in a future on-campus museum. 

Here are a few examples of works from the Buck collection.

Alfredo Ramos Martinez, Flowers in a Blue Vase, about 1934
At a dinner given by Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, Phoebe Hearst admired the placemats hand-painted by a young art student. His name was Alfredo Ramos Martinez, and Hearst financed his continued study in Paris. Upon his return Martinez spread Euro avant-garde ideas to Mexico and Los Angeles. In 1929 he landed a show at the Los Angeles County Museum and went on to sell works to Hollywood royalty from Alfred Hitchcock to Jimmy Stewart. A flower piece in the Buck collection commemorates Martinez's trans-border influence. 
Agnes Pelton, The Toilet (1911/1916), and John McLaughlin, untitled, date unknown
You probably didn't recognize the artists from these paintings. Both are early efforts by two of California's star modernists. The Buck collection also has multiple mature works by Pelton and McLaughlin.
Joan Brown, Thing with Wings, 1958
Joan Brown's early, large, and literally cheeky People and Eye Trees in the Park in Madrid was prominent in the 2018 Irvine show of the Buck collection. Thing with Wings is even earlier, predating the artist's 1960 Whitney debut at the age of 22.  
Barbara Carrasco, Border Nativity, 2006
The ICMA Instagram feed has a sizable selection of Latinx artists. I suspect they're emphasizing the diversity in a collection that must overall skew white and Anglo. But Buck bought Carlos Alamarz in depth and well ahead of the art market curve. Barbara Carrasco's Border Nativity (2006) is one of the more recent works in the collection.
Gronk, Strange Hobby, 1989
Carlos Almaraz, Tree of Life, 1987
Jess, Two/Check, 1993
I don't know how many of the 3200 Buck objects are works on paper. Examples shown on the Instagram account—Jess collages, a Ruscha gunpowder drawing, and Hernández's Sun Mad silkscreen—are choice.
Ed Ruscha, Wanze, 1967
John Valdez, Two Guys, 1978–80
There's not much photography (but here's a John Valdez that Buck bought, from the East LA Portraits). 
Ruth Asawa, S.552, Hanging Tied-Wire, Double-Sided, Closed-Center, Multi-Branched Form Based on Nature, about 1968
This Asawa complements a basket piece shown in 2018. 
Jon Serl, Primitive, date unknown
It's news to me that Buck collected anything of the "outsider" persuasion. Jon Serl (1894-1993) had vaudeville and Hollywood careers spanning stints as actor, dancer, screenwriter, female impersonator, and voice-over artist. When money was tight, and it often was, he did turns as farm worker and handyman. Late in life, Serl turned to painting, cashing in on the Grandma Moses boom in "primitive" art. Serl scored several one-artist shows, notably at the Newport Harbor Art Museum ("Psychological Paintings: The Personal Vision of Jon Serl," 1981). 
Guy Rose, Fog Lifting, 1916; Charles Christian Nahl, untitled portrait, 1854

P.S. From the Joan Irvine Smith collection is this murky coastline by Guy Rose. To the right is a work gifted to UC Irvine by the Nehrenberg family (i.e., someone not named Smith or Buck). The sober portrait of an unknown sitter is by Charles Christian Nahl, otherwise known for campy genre scenes of the Old West. Witness the Autry's Dead Miner and the audaciously titled The Nightwatch. That's not the Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum—it's the Nahl at Knott's Berry Farm.

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