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Exposing Underground Art in Laguna Beach

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Historically, Laguna Beach is known for it's plein-air paintings, blonde-haired Kens and Barbies, beautiful beaches and a slew of classical art-inspired boutiques and festivals. Laguna Art Museum (LAM) has a long standing history for catering to its beach-bunny, classic ocean-sunset-loving community, but with the influx of contemporary art and innovation leaving Los Angeles and finding haven in OC, LAM ventures into edgy new art territory with their newest venture, ex•pose.

ex•pose is a new program at Laguna Art Museum that focuses on one emerging or mid-career contemporary artist at a time. Modeled after the MATRIX program at Berkeley Art Museum and the Hammer Projects program at the Hammer Museum, ex-pose aims at creating a local connection with artists, and to involve the Laguna community in the current global contemporary art dialogue.

"Laguna Art Museum is known as more of a historical museum, but we're really not that at all. We'd like to keep a revolving door of contemporary artwork throughout the year."

Grace Kook Anderson, the curator of contemporary art at LAM proposed the program idea of ex•pose when she first joined the LAM family in 2008. They launched a pilot program at first, featuring inexpensive, project-based shows on the ground floor of the Museum with artists like Jeremy Fish, Brad Brown, Sean Duffy and Lita Albuequerque. Similar to an artist-in-residence program, Grace works closely with each artist selected to build a socially-conscious series of events, workshops, lectures, and projects for their ex-pose stay. Grace admits that she loves being able to work with such esteemed artists, and the community has been so responsive to the program so far. "My endeavors with "ex•pose" are really selfish in a lot of ways," she says. "I get so much personal enjoyment out of working with all these artists directly. It feels selfish."

The ex•pose program has just launched, featuring only one other artist--Peter Bo Rappmund--before the current "ex•posed" artist, Mach Suzuki. Suzuki's "Permission To Fail" work focuses on the experience of failing, a sensory and emotive personal experience native to all humankind. Suzuki's pieces are unpretentious, and make the viewer feel very comfortable with its finish and implied connections. The craft-heavy work is easily relatable and has an honest feel about it all. The work is personal but the installation as a whole and the series of work viewed together compose a kind of surrealistic dreamscape. I have a strange attraction to Suzuki's work, not unlike my own internal discourse and daydreams, his work flirts with humor while embracing the lack of control and beauty in the oddities of this world. His work is a nearly perfect exploration of creativity, imagination, and reality--into failure. "I do not necessarily convey these experiences factually," he says, "I dress them up with elaborate fabrications some would call lies."

The Laguna Art Museum's ex•pose program will not only reinforce a constant contemporary art presence in the museum and in the Laguna Beach community, but also shake things up a little. The traditional demographic of the LAM skews a bit towards older audiences. With the ex•pose program fully developing, the demographics are also widening, opening up audiences, exposure and interactions between the different demographics. Anderson seems to be bringing some life back into the sleepy plein-air painting-loving beach town, but Laguna's edginess and contemporary relevance comes in waves. Anderson said in the late 70s and 80s the Laguna Art Museum featured emerging artists and that spirit is still in the heart of LAM. Just before Grace joined the staff at LAM, Artbound's own, Tyler Stallings set a foundation for intelligent and critical contemporary art at LAM. "He was brave," she mentions. "He did great contemporary programming; he broadened the scope of what contemporary art in Laguna could be."

The whole program of this first installment of ex•pose will round out with a total of nine artists--with three shows a year, all of which are selected and invited to participate by Anderson. She feels that her selections are reactive to the history of the museum and that of art traditions in general. "The Laguna Art Museum's collection, by default, has a lot of dead white men; so I am partly reacting to that tradition," Anderson says. "I look at artists who work with more socially conscious, conceptual and relevant contemporary work."

After Suzuki, artist, Allison Schulnik will be "ex•posed". Her provocative clay-mation artwork and her dark, surreal paintings will be exhibited at LAM. Reminiscent of German Expressionist painting mixed with traditional Folk Art, Schulnik plays with visual identity and cultural references in her creepy and powerful work--a big change, visually and conceptually for LAM's normal repertoire. Though each artist is very different, the conceptual foundation throughout the artwork and artists is the key factor for LAM.

The focus on the local community and open art dialogue is important to maintain in any artistic area, but Orange County is getting a really great chance to come up as a heavy hitter in the art world with art professionals like Grace Kook Anderson, John Spiak, Dan Cameron, and David Michael Lee. The Biennials and now with our OC Triennial on the burner, Orange County is getting hot, and LAM has the right idea. "Biennial survey shows cram a lot in, but don't do much justice in featuring one artist--at least Laguna now can dedicate time and energy to focus on debuting one artist [fully] at a time," says Anderson.

Grand Central Art Center is doing a similar series of events called Conversations with Masters, where professional artists are invited to participate in a Q & A with a selected graduate student from CSUF focusing on a similar practice. Their monthly conversations are intimate and poorly advertised giving the attendees a great opportunity to connect with the artist personally. Laguna Art Museum is giving contemporary art enthusiasts a chance to get to know one artist at a time, and giving a chance to personally interact with each artist. This trend in social activist artworks and community-oriented artistic interactions is a popular movement that is getting a lot of attention in contemporary art, specifically in Orange County arts. It brings people closer together, and greatly diminishes that traditional, disjointed elitist feeling the art world is known for. The OC art scene is inviting and welcoming collaborative change and creative innovation--with particular thanks to programs like ex•pose at Laguna Art Museum and Conversations with Masters at Grand Central Art Center. Keep an eye out for more artistic awesomeness from this side of the county divide.

Macha Suzuki will remain "ex•posed" at Laguna Art Museum until January 2013.

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