Contemporary art enthusiasts who eschew art history and the work from other cultures in favor of solely focusing on the present miss a critical link in understanding current art. Artists continually mine the past. Recognizing the use of and nuance from antecedents is part of the appreciation and pleasure of contemporary work.

Richard Jackson at the Orange County Museum of Art

This approach is in clear evidence in the wonderful Richard Jackson Retrospective currently on view at the Orange County Museum of Art through May 5.  Although I had not previously been a fan of the work, this show won me over. Imagination and an unconventional spirit infuse the pieces. The exhibition is filled with innovation, bold execution and plenty of artistic connection to both antecedents and contemporaries. Take pleasure in the nod to Jacques-Louis David, Duchamp, Pollock, Keinholz, Richter, Nauman and others.



Hashimoto Chikanobu, “Japanese Ministers at Meiji Period”, 1886,
color woodblock print, Honolulu Art Museum

As a viewer, I look to the past as well as other multiple visual sources wherever I find them to inform my own insight and information. On a recent visit to Honolulu, surf & sand had some serious competition from the visual treasures at the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The Asian collection at the Museum is considered one of the most important in American museums, particularly the Chinese, Japanese and Korean Art. Every room is meticulously installed and contains breathtaking examples from the collection. The Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which number over 10,000, contain numerous masterworks which are rotated every two months due to their fragility and sensitivity to light.

Tony Oursler at the Honolulu Museum of Art, video installation

The galleries of American and European paintings are swathed in color, installed with great wit as period and scale are effectively integrated. A contemporary exhibition of Tony Oursler added to the broad stroke across time and place.



Guest House at Shangri La, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art

Room in Shangri La, Doris Duke Foundation

The Honolulu Museum also coordinates tours of Shangri La, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts and Cultures, which opened to the public in 2002. Shangri La was built in the late 1930s on five acres near Diamond Head. Incorporating architectural features, artifacts and objects, the collection was assembled over 60 years.  It is a tribute to Duke’s love of beauty and her passion for Islamic culture, combining both connoisseurship with considerable personal license.



One of 39 species, Birds of Paradise Project

Speaking of the exotic, the Broad Stage in Santa Monica just featured a program on the Birds of Paradise Project. Cornel Lab of Ornithology scientist, Ed Scholes and National Geographic photographer, Tim Laman, have succeeded in capturing the most astounding images of all 39 species in the bird-of-paradise family for the very first time. It took 8 years and 18 expeditions to New Guinea, Australia and nearby islands. Check out the video!



“The Book of Symbols”, Taschen, 2010

Lastly, while browsing at Taschen, I discovered “The Book of Symbols”, published in 2010. Taschen books are often like beautiful art objects in themselves. This handbook of visual experience throughout history is one such book. Professor James Harris of John Hopkins University described it as “a compendium of transformative images and essays, an essential guide for all explorers of the inner life.” Open any section of the book and you will find a visual orgy of delight. At $40, we’re talking great value!


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