The Three Cs of the Palm Springs Art Museum

by Tom Senzee
Sunday Jul 28, 2013

This reporter is hardly the first and surely will not be the last to note that there is no place on earth like Palm Springs. For a city with an official population of fewer than 50,000 full-time residents, this not-so-humble burgh is home to far more than its fair share of masterpieces in terms of art, architecture and cultural icons-both of the human and material varieties.

It is fairly safe to say (emphasis on "fairly," due to the abundance of world-class galleries and arts centers that abound in the Coachella Valley - not to mention the myriad private collections) that no venue in the desert offers more variety, historical significance and quality of art, architecture and creative culture under two roofs than does the Palm Springs Art Museum.

If anyone thinks the buzz of don't-miss activities and exhibits tapers off during the hot months, they should consider just three words that begin with the letter "C." Those words are "current," "color" and "cinema."

Beginning with "C" No. 1, let's take a look at what's currently available for the sensory enjoyment of visitors to Palm Springs Art Museum. "Across Dimensions" is billed as an exhibition of graphics and sculpture from the museum's permanent collection and an opportunity for both serious art aficionados and novices to steal a glimpse behind the curtain of renowned artists' creative processes.

An array of sometimes roughly hewn proto-sculpture and "early-draft" two-dimensional works-on-paper by the likes of Donald Judd, Dan Namingha, Alberto Giacometti, Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Arneson have been assembled in the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden at the Palm Springs Art Museum's Palm Desert campus. There, summertime desert dwellers and visitors are offered a simple, cool way to get into the minds of famed and illustrious modern and contemporary artists.

"C" No. 2 is "color." Coming soon to the museum is a watershed of color in the form of an exhibit entitled "Made in the USA: From the Abstract Expressionists to the Color Field Painters." The Annenberg Wing of the main campus is host to works by Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning in this wide swath of massive and precise color-spectrum tour de force of post-war "newness." It is impossible to overstate the importance and aesthetic appeal of color in this show.

An untrained eye might, at first glance, think of this exhibition as simply one about paintings that line doctors' office waiting room walls and hotel lobbies. But the very least of effort reveals a visual dessert whose vivid colors and sensual lines are delectable and spiritually encompassing. "Made in the USA" runs now through Sunday, September 29.

Lastly, cinema comes to the Palm Springs Art Museum in a summer film series that marries two international sources of expertise about fine art-on-celluloid (and microchip) to bring the best bargain in movies available under the blazing desert sun. We're talking free films here, folks!

Among the dozen movies that anyone who arrives early to ensure admission will have a chance to see are seven films from the 2013 Global Lens foreign film series (part of the Global Film Initiative) are "The Fantastic World of Juan Orol" and "Shyamal Uncle Turns Off the Lights," both of which have received high praise from critics worldwide.

Additionally, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has curated for the Palm Springs Art Museum five comedies, among them a Coen Brothers classic-modern film noir, starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter called "Raising Arizona."
Indeed this film has become a cult classic. But it has also been touted as the Coens' first mainstream hit. Furthermore, "Raising Arizona" is often thought of as Cage's breakout performance and one of Hunter's most memorable. For exactly $0, it's a film any self-respecting buff must have in his or her repertoire.
Also playing during the summer film series at Palm Springs Art Museum is Mel Brooks' and Gene Wilder's hit horror spoof, "Young Frankenstein."
The museum's free summer film series happens Thursdays at 6 p.m. (again, arrive early) now through Thursday, September 19.

When The Rage Monthly's editor, Joel Martens, asked me if I wanted to write a piece about the Palm Springs Art Museum's summer activities and programs for this issue, he couldn't have known (nor have I told him - until now) that the museum has cast an almost supernatural shadow across my life off and on, since I was an adolescent.

Growing up in Palm Springs, two of my best friends were daughters of the late Fred Sleight, a man who has been called "the most visionary director the museum has ever had." Sleight was the executive who saw the institution's true potential in the '60s and '70s and the one most responsible for moving it from much smaller digs into the highly versatile and iconic building it has occupied for decades.

Once, while I was still in high school and working as a valet at the back entrance of the then-newly renovated, Desert Fashion Plaza across the street from the museum, Liberace rolled up in an extended-hood Cadillac El Dorado. "Park your car Mr. Liberace?" I asked as his window rolled down (he was driving himself).
"Not this time, but please just call me Lee," he replied in that famously mellifluous voice. His ultra-lacquered Caddy then ambled away toward I Magnin. I went back to my post, where I stared at the rocky walls of the museum - at the time cloistered in banners announcing the arrival of the Armand Hammer collection - wondering in the sensuous summer heat who might wind their way into the parking structure next.

Growing up in the 1980s as a gay teenager in Palm Springs was exciting, boring and magical all at once. Watch for more anecdotes of my personal experiences (a surprising number of which happened at or in the orbit of the Palm Springs Art Museum).

Bob Bogard, Director of Marketing Communications at the Palm Springs Art Museum, compiled this list for The Rage Monthly and EDGE readers. Bogard handles the museum's publicity, advertising and other communications. He has worked at the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce and at various public relations agencies in New York and San Francisco.


Diamond Jubilee, Would You Believe?

The Palm Springs Art Museum will be observing its 75th Anniversary during the 2013-2014 season. Founded in 1938 as the Palm Springs Desert Museum, the institution began collecting in the 1950s. The assembled collection includes modern and contemporary selections, western and Native American art, glass, architecture, design, photography and Mesoamerican artifacts.

Ice, Ice, Baby

To preserve the art, the museum building is always 75 degrees. Visiting is a perfect way to beat the desert heat.

Chinese First Lady Sees Hummingbird

The museum recently hosted Madam Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Madam Peng loved the Paul Jenkins painted phenomena "Wind Off Big Sur." She said the elegant painting reminded her of the tail of a hummingbird.

Three's Company - Lots of Company!

On average the museum sees approximately 165,000 people in the main museum building per year. Recently, the museum opened a satellite branch in Palm Desert that had approximately 20,000 visitors. A third building, dedicated to architecture and design will open in downtown Palm Springs during the fall of 2014.

Annenberg Theater Carries a "Tune"

The museum also features the 433-seat Annenberg Theater, which has hosted the performances of Rita Moreno, Elaine Paige, Brian Wilson, Sutton Foster, Brain Stokes Mitchell and many more. Nine-time Tony award winner Tommy Tune will open the 2013-2014 season on Saturday, November 16.

Free For All

Every Thursday, both museum locations are open for free from 4 to 8 p.m. In Palm Springs, the museum hosts the popular "Free Second Sundays," which see about 800-1,000 attendees per day.

Mid-Century: But Far From Middle-of-the-Road

The main museum building was designed by legendary mid-century architect E. Stewart Williams, best-known for the design of the former Frank Sinatra estate, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Mountaintop Station and the stunning Edris House in Palm Springs.

Gays, Glass, Greats

Recent exhibitions have featured works by Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Rauschenberg and glass-blowing expert Lino Tagliapietra.

Free Films Too?

All summer the museum will showcase free films every Thursday through September 19. "The Parade" is a hilarious comedy about the Serbian mafia, which must suddenly provide security for the annual gay pride parade.

For more information call 760.322.4800 to reach the Palm Springs campus located at 101 Museum Drive, for the Palm Desert location at 72-567 Highway 111, call 760.346.5600, or for online information on both locations go to psmuseum.org.

Copyright Rage Monthly. For more articles from Rage visit www.ragemonthly.com


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