Show Preview | Gold Medal Exhibition

Los Angeles, CA
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, June 9-July 1

Douglas Morgan, Red Scooter, oil, 16 x 20.

Douglas Morgan, Red Scooter, oil, 16 x 20.

This story was featured in the June 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

The California Art Club, one of the oldest and largest fine-art organizations in the country, presents its 107th annual Gold Medal Exhibition this month, with more than 300 fine artworks by 220 nationally renowned painters and sculptors, such as Béla Bácsi, Julie Bell, George Carlson, Dennis Doheny, Max Ginsburg, Jean LeGassick, David A. Leffel, Michael Obermeyer, and Mian Situ. The juried event kicks off with a ticketed Collectors’ Preview and Artists’ Gala on Saturday, June 9, and then opens to the public on Sunday at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the very first museum to host the exhibition more than a century ago. Various Los Angeles venues have hosted the Gold Medal Exhibition over the years, but the Natural History Museum has proved to be its most steadfast host, presenting the show 26 times between 1914 and 1944.

In many ways, returning to the museum for the club’s hallmark show this year is a commemorative affair, says artist Peter Adams, CAC’s president since 1993. The club’s founding members helped shape the museum during its initial years of operation, when it was known as the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art. In later years, many CAC artists helped paint the scenic backdrops accompanying the museum’s massive dioramas. “William Wendt, one of our early members, worked to collect art for the museum,” says Adams, “and his wife, Julia Bracken Wendt, created an 11-foot-high sculpture called THREE MUSES that remains on view in the museum’s rotunda today.”

The Gold Medal Exhibition itself serves as an ever-present reminder of the CAC’s illustrious past. Artworks in this year’s show reflect time-honored techniques once used by the organization’s pioneering artists, including Wendt, Franz Bischoff, and Guy Rose, all of whom popularized California’s plein-air movement in the early 20th century. At the same time, notes Adams, many of the exhibiting artists branch out into various styles and themes that extend far beyond the club’s plein-air heritage. “We embrace the influences of early California Impressionists, but we’ve also expanded into other areas,” he says. “What I call traditional art is much broader than landscape painting. We give artists a chance to spread their wings. The Gold Medal Exhibition has always been about the wonder and glory of showing your best and most exciting work.”

Thus, in addition to classic landscapes and seascapes, visitors to the exhibition can find western-themed works, still lifes, portraiture, and urban scenes, as well as portrayals of wildlife and prehistoric behemoths that celebrate the museum’s natural-history focus. Other pieces explore contemporary issues such as diversity, social justice, and environmentalism. In one of her pieces for the show, titled MCKITTRICK, signature member April Raber portrays the somber, metal-gray oil fields in western Kern County, CA. The Southern California artist spotted the industrial scene on a drive through McKittrick Valley after exiting Los Padres National Forest. “The valley was completely covered with mechanistic machinery,” recalls Raber. “It really affected me—how much energy we consume, and how much it takes to run that part of California.” While the artist’s painting reflects her ongoing interest in man-made structures, its design breaks the “golden mean” she usually follows, says Raber. “Generally, I divide the canvas into a three-to-five ratio,” she explains. “In this case, I divided the scene right through the middle of the composition, creating equal parts sky and land. I wanted to create a sense of the endless monotony, with all these oil pumps going on for miles. It’s almost otherworldly.”

On a very different note, both in mood and color, signature member Douglas Morgan’s jovial painting RED SCOOTER features a sunny harbor scene inspired by slide film he shot while visiting a small seaport in Cassis, France, with his wife. The focal point of the piece is a gleaming, cherry-red scooter parked alongside a humble fishing boat. “I love the color red—it’s so much fun, and this Vespa is just so European. I could imagine a fisherman buzzing around the harbor on it,” says the artist, who painted the scene “first thing” after returning to his studio in Sebastopol, CA. Now in his 21st year participating in the Gold Medal Exhibition, Morgan marvels at the show’s continued growth and evolution over the past few decades. “The quality of the show has just gotten better and better,” he enthuses. “It’s as good as it gets on the West Coast.” —Kim Agricola

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This story was featured in the June 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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