Munro: Rockwell's shifting reputation; Oakhurst show

FresnoJune 26, 2014 

A couple of notes from the arts beat:

Slighting Rockwell?

Dick Haas wasn't impressed with my recent coverage of the Fresno Art Museum's summer exhibitions. We made "Rock Stars & Rockwell" our cover headline of June 6's 7 section, giving pretty much equal weight to three of the museum's shows: two of them devoted to rock 'n' roll concert photography, including a lineup of prints by Ethan Russell, who photographed the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other big names; and the other an exhibition of Norman Rockwell lithographs from the museum's permanent collection.

Haas writes: "My major issue is the space and commentary devoted to snapshots of what, in the long run, are minor figures in American pop culture. I would suggest that in a few years hence few would have much interest in Joni Mitchell or Chuck Berry. Shooting such persons is not, in my opinion, high art, and arguably is not art at all. … There's little creativity or imagination."

He adds that, despite the snobbery of some art critics, Rockwell's work "represents a great deal more perception and imagination than very ordinary snapshots and will be appreciated for far longer — after all of us are long gone. And deserved more space in your piece."

My response:

The rock photography shows occupy two major galleries and are considered by the museum to be one of the summer's big draws.

This is the first time this kind of photographic exhibition has been featured at the museum, and the Ethan Russell show features a major name in rock photography and huge names in rock history.

The Rockwell show consists of various works from the museum's permanent collection that have been exhibited before. It is not a traveling show.

Beyond the question of allocating coverage among the different shows, I'm intrigued by the question of Rockwell's reputation. Haas has an interesting perspective. For many years, art critics tended to blast Rockwell as cliched, cloying and overly sentimental. But recently, there's a lot more debate on the issue.

Rockwell is now undergoing a major critical and financial reappraisal, The New York Times reports. In December, the artist's "Saying Grace" set an auction record for Rockwell, selling at Sotheby's for $46 million. And his critical reputation seems to be on the mend, as well. A 2001 major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, mounted just after the World Trade Center attacks, "may have touched a nerve with an American public hungering for the reassurance of traditional American values captured by Rockwell's vision," The Times reports.

As for putting a Rockwell image up against a photo of a backstage Mick Jagger getting his eyeliner done in a sort of artistic cage match: Well, that's entirely in the eye of the beholder. A hundred years from now, will people revere Rockwell and wonder who the heck this Jagger fellow was? Only time will tell.

Oakhurst mural

The artists at Oakhurst's Timberline Gallery wanted to do something to honor the 150th anniversary of Yosemite National Park. They sure came up with something dramatic.

The gallery's Art Quilt Block Mural is two stories tall and 70 feet wide. You'll find it installed on the gallery's north outside wall, giving a prime view to motorists traveling south on Highway 41 as they enter Oakhurst.

The project was the idea of Coarsegold fiber artist Vivian Helena Aumond-Capone. Barn quilt blocks, in which pieces of wood are painted to look like quilts and then positioned on barns, are becoming quite popular. Some communities have organized "Barn Quilt Block Trails" in which people drive around and look at various highlighted quilt blocks.

The Timberline artists opted for a mural-like configuration. Gallery member Jacqueline Kurtt figured out how to engineer and install the project, which consists of 19 pieces of wood, each 4-feet square, configured to hang on point. The gallery invited other artists from its neighbors at Gallery Row to contribute. The result: 12 painted boards and seven photographs on metal.

All are inspired by Yosemite, with subjects ranging from animals and trees to water and snow.

The installation is permanent. Trees have been trimmed and a light installed, and there is an area for cars to pull over so you can get out and contemplate at your leisure instead of trying to see everything at 40 mph.

"With 70 feet of art out there, it's kind of impressive," Aumond-Capone says.

Timberline hopes its project will inspire others like it, and gallery members hope to drum up some business by creating and installing Art Blocks on barns and Tuff Sheds in the area.

Perhaps an Art Block Barn Trail in Oakhurst and surrounding areas is in the future.


The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, or @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at

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