Long Beach Museum of Art opens two new exhibits celebrating California’s past


Kristen Naeem | Signal Tribune

Reverie, painted by Mabel Alvarez in 1925, is the oldest work of art in Decade by Decade: Women Artists of California

Two new exhibits celebrating the history of California’s creative minds are now open at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Decade by Decade: Women Artists of California and California Designed 1955.

Decade by Decade consists of 70 years worth of art by women from California, and takes up most of the museum’s upstairs space with the galleries arranged chronologically, each dedicated to art from a different time period.

While artwork by women is in the minority in LBMA’s permanent collection, at 20%, this is still more than the national average for art museums, according to LBMA’s website. The museum acquired its first work of art by a woman, Samohi Studio by Lucille Brown, sometime between 1952 and 1956.

The oldest piece in Decade by Decade is Reverie, painted by Mabel Alvarez in 1925. The painting depicts a dark haired woman seated against a light beige background, and is the first thing guests see as they enter the exhibit.

Multiple works by renowned California painter, illustrator and graphic designer Orpha Mae Klinker are included in the gallery dedicated to art from the 1930s to 1950s. Klinker studied art in Paris and later one became one of California’s most well known plein air painters.

Plein air is a French term that refers to painting outdoors, typically involving subjects in nature. While Klinker is known as part of the California plein air movement, she was a versatile artist skilled at rendering many different subjects in a variety of styles.

Her oil painting Pottery Market, Oaxaca, Mexico from 1930 depicts a colorful Oaxacan market place using thick brush strokes. The museum describes this painting as “a reminder of the overlapping correspondence between Mexico and Southern California.”

In the adjacent gallery, is the extremely detailed 1956 lithograph, Tower of Babel, by June Wayne, which shows the biblical scene of God’s dismantling of the Tower of Babel.

In the Bible, the story of the Tower of Babel is used to explain why people speak different languages. According to the story, found in Genesis, humans once all spoke the same language and were building a tower they hoped would reach to heaven, later called the Tower of Babel, until God made them all start speaking different languages. Since they could no longer communicate, the tower was abandoned and humans separated from each other.

Wayne’s lithograph depicts a tower made of differently textured rocks, fit snugly together at the top and bottom of the structure, but pulling apart from each other in the center. Surrounding the tower in a double-helix formation are ethereal, human-like silhouettes.

A painting made immediately after the turn of the century, Lotus Land by Astrid Preston, can be found hanging in the Decade by Decade gallery dedicated to art from the 1990s until present day. The 2000 oil painting is mostly composed of a hazy background of vague greenery, with three hyper-detailed landscapes spaced out in three neat boxes on the canvas.

Downstairs, the galleries were filled with furniture designed for an exhibition in 1955, meant to showcase ingenuity in Californian design. Selected pieces from that show, which are part of the museum’s permanent collection, were gathered for California Designed 1955.

Among the California designers were multiple pieces by the famed siblings Charles and Ray Eames, considered innovators in furniture design. Charles Eames’ mid-century chair design of white fiberglass, La Chaise, is one of the larger pieces in California Designed 1955.

“This show was one of the first exhibitions we ever did at the museum,” California Design 1955 co-curator Paul Loya said. “We did a show in 1955 called California Design, and it was [about] embracing the modern design movement that was happening at that moment in time. So we really featured big contemporary designers and manufacturers who were innovating design at that time in 1955. This show isn’t the exact show that happened in ‘95, but every artist that was in that show, we have an example of their work from that original 1995 show.”

A free opening reception for both Decade by Decade: Women Artists of California and California Designed 1955 was held for the public on Friday, Jan. 24 from 7pm to 9pm. The following day, the Long Beach Museum of Art continued to give free admission to the museum as part of its participation in Los Angeles County’s yearly Museum Day, when many museums around the county offer free entrance.

Both exhibits will be on display until May 17, with general admission costing $10 for adults and $8 for students.