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Art Review: Pacific Asia Museum goes modern, for the time being

January 20, 2012|By Kirk Silsbee
  • Ken Price "Figurine Cup III" 1970 Offset litho and screenprint (Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L.)
Ken Price "Figurine Cup III" 1970 Offset litho…

One of the unexpected dividends of the Getty’s far-reaching “Pacific Standard Time” series is the cross-pollination of audiences and institutions; another is focused historic perspective. The Pacific Asia Museum, not known for modern-art exhibitions, is playing host to a modest retrospective of the influential Pasadena Art Museum. The former was initially housed in the Pacific Asia’s building, hence the title of the show: “46 N. Robles: A History of the Pasadena Art Museum.” It’s a nifty piece of site-specific heritage in the form of a mixed media art survey.

Long before the Los Angeles County Museum of Art debut in the 1960s, the Pasadena Art Museum mounted important modern-art surveys. From the late 1920s, downtown L.A. had a modernist cell centered on the Jake Zeitlin bookstore, and the Westside was where many of the European intellectual exiles lived. Pasadena was seen as a culturally sleepy bedroom community, albeit one with wealthy families. In 1942, the Pasadena Art Institute combined with the one-year-old Pasadena Museum of Art and took over 46 N. Los Robles Ave., keeping the name Pasadena Art Institute. The name changed to the Pasadena Art Museum in 1954.

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Innovative community arts programs for schoolchildren and shows by photographer/artist Man Ray followed. An infusion of more than 450 modernist works from collector Galka Scheyer in 1953 was a watershed acquisition for the museum. The German emigre was the U.S. representative of “Blue Four” artists Wassily Kandinsky, Alexei Jawlensky, Lyonel Feininger and Paul Klee. A geometric watercolor by Kandinsky is notable for its precise draftsmanship and characteristic colorful harmony.

The Pasadena Art Museum hosted the first California Design show in 1955, which featured the forward-looking work of Charles and Ray Eames, so why no mention of them? Solo Pasadena Art Museum shows for SoCal surrealist Helen Lundeberg and hard-edge pioneer John McLaughlin were rare museum endorsements for the emerging artists who would be the object of “Pacific Standard Time” these many years later.

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