An Ever-Changing Legend
The Palm Springs Art Museum steps forward
The building is legendary…
When renowned architect E. Stewart Williams approached the original design of the current 105,000 square-foot Palm Springs Art Museum in the early 1970s, he studied the desert’s unique light, the contours of the arid landscape and the colors of the San Jacinto Mountains that nestle the museum at their base. The result was a poured concrete wonder, mirroring the magnificent mounts, drenched in the sun-burnt sienna hues distinctly borrowed from the region’s solid, desert rock. A façade of lightweight and porous volcanic cinder adorned the exterior. Today, this mar- riage of cultural institution and geographic setting continues to astound architecture buffs the world over.
Known to the Museum family as Stew, Williams was the last of a generation of desert modern architects who, along with Albert Frey, William Cody, and John Porter Clark, helped define an aesthetic that embraced the informality of Palm Springs and stressed clean lines, indoor-outdoor living and the use of glass and natural materials. Before his death, Williams played a part in the museum’s 1996 expansion, citing that his project could not be complete until the building, the art and the people came together. This philosophy has been integral to the Museum’s success as it has evolved over the years to meet the needs of an ever-changing public.
The evolution is legendary…
As Palm Springs has changed over the past decade to include a younger, more diverse demographic as the result of an unprecedented inland population migration and real estate boom, the Museum has had to simultaneously morph to meet the thirsts of a new audience of young and old who are at once nostalgic and progressive. This changing reality led to the removal of the natural science wing which historically contained exhibitions on indigenous desert species. It also led to the removal of the word “desert” from the Museum’s name, leaving it with a freshened art museum persona. Today, museum visitors are as equally prone to find the famous permanent wooden dining room collection designed by actor George Montgomery (a true nod to Palm Springs’ illustrious 1950s star-studded past as a getaway for the rich and famous) as they are to seeing a David Glomb photography exhibition replete with New York drag queens, celebrity home shots and the stark, cool lines of desert minimalist architecture. The Museum has opened its arms to art and artists that are regionally relevant (DJ Hall and Michael Childers), culturally important (Nathan Olivieros and Chuck Close), blue-chip quality (Dale Chihuly, Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler), and on the cutting-edge of contemporary (Ginny Ruffner and Jack Lenor Larsen)—a progressive leap away from the Museum’s traditional fare.
“A museum combines art and people,” says Executive Director Janice Lyle. “We have an extraordinary building that gives us a magnificent aesthetic space to display art. Our collection is maturing and I believe we will see major gifts that elevate the quality and quantity of the works in the collection. In addition, we have always cared about the welcoming atmosphere and the educational opportunities that we offer visitors. Our new mission statement tries to capture our ideals: The Palm Springs Art Museum celebrates the creative spirit by exploring the dynamic world of the arts with its community and visitors.”
The cultural shift in the Museum’s communal identity could be seen in the recent lecture that opened the Jack Lenor Larsen exhibit. Larsen was invited to speak in front of museum members and was overheard telling the sold-out crowd of 500 that he had never seen his collection displayed so pleasingly. Among the crowd of young and hip council supporters were nationally-known talents like fashion designer Trina Turk—who helped underwrite the evening—Beat Hotel owner Steve Lowe— who owns and operates the last living shrine to William Burroughs in Desert Hot Springs—pop-graphics artist Jim Iserman, uber-designer David Dixon and architec- tural whiz kid Phillip K. Smith III. These figures are the next generation of major museum supporters who are building the new creative blueprint of a town on the verge of becoming a cultural beast to be reckoned with.
The current exhibition is legendary…
In his exhibit Creator and Collector, Jack Lenor Larsen’s innovative fabric designs envelope a space filled with Larsen’s personal art collection so that the viewer comprehends the common weave between what the artist perceives and what the artist creates as one homogenous pulse-of-life source. With the ceiling-to-floor draping of textiles juxtaposed against translucent glass boxes filled with worldly artifacts and artworks, the exhibition creates the same kind of warp and weft of odd pairings that is seen in Larsen’s fabric compositions. In one piece, Larsen wove torn, saran filaments with a film-like black wire and dipped the entire piece into hot water so that it coiled and shrunk into the fabulously textured and shimmering sheet visible now.
This year’s gala is legendary..
On March 25, 2006 the Museum Associates Council will hold its annual fundraiser for the Museum. The Artists and Legends Gala will honor legendary artists Robert Graham, Dale Chihuly and James Galanos. One of the gala’s chairpersons is world famous photographer Michael Childers, a Rancho Mirage resident known for his glamorous portraits of legendary stars like Greta Garbo and Natalie Wood. A large part of his portfolio is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and includes luscious black and whites of artists like Charles Arnoldi, Andy Warhol and David Hockney.
“It’s not just their celebrity or their fame in the world of art,” Michael Childers says about the honorees. “It’s their continual quest to achieve something new and beautiful, different from any other artist—a constant quest for new vision, for extraor- dinary quality and brilliance.”
“Chihuly & Galanos both have a connection with the desert,” he continues. “Chihuly lived in one of Donald Wexler’s original, architecturally-pristine homes. It’s so wonderful to honor a design genius like James Galanos. His forty years of cou- ture quality work is admired by the world’s greatest designers. Robert Graham I’ve known for thirty years. His work’s brilliance in a totally classical manner constantly amazes me—it’s simplicity in form and shape. His beautiful sculpted doors for the LA Cathedral made me weep with joy, reminding me of the great Renaissance mas- ters such as Bernini & Michaelangelo. Graham needs no introduction—he’s a force unto himself. This gala evening will represent the best of art and design and a fusion with this ever-changing and exciting community we live in. There is glamour and sophistication that has been achieved brilliantly in Palm Springs, and the muse- um is a main part of this town’s cultural renaissance. These three legendary men together in one small town surrounded by mountains in one of the most beautiful climates of the world—you can’t get much better than that.”
Each artist will be awarded a special honor of artistic excellence at the Gala which will feature a dinner in the museum and a performance by Lucie Arnaz and her band in the Annenberg Theater. The fete promises to propel the museum up another notch on the town’s social ladder, positioning an institution with an illustrious past towards an exciting and burgeoning future.