Monday, June 3, 2013

Arneson's California Artist: What it Means to Be a Regionalist

It is tough to be a regionalist (or simply rooted in your place) and be taken seriously by the east coast art establishment.  In visiting the SFMOMA the other day I was pleased to see Arneson's "California Artist" sculpture still prominently displayed.  The story behind this piece is revealing and there are strong parallels to events in the architecture scene over the years.  Often seen as anti-intellectual and preoccupied with craft, architecture and sculpture have had difficulty being recognized on the east coast.

But it is worth noting that many of the most convincing examples of sustainable architecture have emerged out of the far west where designs that were perhaps stylistically naive have been free to develop in a cultural climate that had the oxegon necessary to foster a pure esthetic of environment.  Sea Ranch and Peter Calthorpe buildings are two immediate examples that come to mind.  It is here where a desire to resonate strongly with the land - not just practically, but esthetically - helped establish a convincing toe hold for work that could unselfconsciously focus it's main thrust on issues of the environment without feeling it was a distraction from other more worthy causes.

Arneson's work is a rare but important example of an artist rooted in place, who was still capable of speaking to a more universal audience.  The provincial quality of some regional work is what gives it a bad name and Arneson transcends this convincingly.

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