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22. Unsuitable art, unsuitable places

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Dr. Robert Gumbiner is dead. John Rabe at KPPC's "Off Ramp" eulogizes with mild snark that the doctor was the Eli Broad of Long Beach. Of course, the doctor wasn't. He wasn't in the proper circle of the dealer/curator complex conveying works from atelier to museum wall by way of some billionaire. Although he was a collector of art and benefactor of a museum and rich enough, Dr. Gumbiner wasn't suitable. Making him, you might think, the Dr. Armand Hammer of Long Beach. But no, Dr. Gumbiner wasn't the calculating and equally unsuitable Dr. Hammer either. A Los Angeles Times art critic, with offhand dismissal, said that Dr. Gumbiner had assembled "a very conservative collection." So, was he the J Paul Getty of Long Beach? No, he wasn't a diminished Getty, either.Billionaire patrons find their art in a no-place suspended midair over Basel, Hong Kong, London, and New York. Dr. Gumbiner looked elsewhere. Looked south, actually, to places in Mexico, Central America, Cuba, South America, and a bit of the Caribbean. Dr. Gambier's unsuitable continent of art.

The odor of purchased taste clings to all art museums, only partly masked by the temperate and humidity-controlled air pumped in. Dr. Gumbiner's Museum of Latin American Art in unsuitable Long Beach isn't an exception (although the building is unusual; it doesn't have his name it). And I confess that it's my own defective sensibility that prevents me from dismissing the art that Dr. Gumbiner bought. Unsuitable me.

The pictures that Dr. Gumbiner bought are mostly "? broadly "? figurative. Appropriate for a continent of believers in bodies and what comes out of them when they are crucified, gunned down, sweated, clubbed, or in the throes of some desire. A continent of earth, not of the air. A continent where the memory of history has run differently "? where the Battle of the Somme, for example, is a picture in a book rather than a daily nightmare, where saints and liquor still foretell, where dreaming has not been exhausted. Where the beaten and those who beat them couple and bear generations of mud and resistance. A brown continent, to use Richard Rodriguez's potent word of mixture, of mestizaje. Unsuitably brown.

You should go and see. If only to step off the floating white and black island of suitable art, Columbus-like, into a new world.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Madrigal Photography in September 2008. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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