Donald Munro

Fresno Art Museum portrait show salutes a patron, has top names

Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Untitled,” an image of Joan Agajanian Quinn, is at the Fresno Art Museum.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Untitled,” an image of Joan Agajanian Quinn, is at the Fresno Art Museum. From the Collection of Joan and Jack Quinn

Imagine having your portrait done by a famous artist. You wouldn’t dare lay down any rules or expectations about the finished product. It’s art. Part of the fun is in seeing how your presence – face, body, personality, essence – is interpreted by a master.

Joan Agajanian Quinn has had that experience 300 times.

The noted Los Angeles art patron, collector, arts advocate and journalist has counted lots of artists as friends over the years. Since the 1950s, it has become something of a tradition for those friends to do portraits of her. The result is a remarkable collection of paintings, photographs and three-dimensional paintings that became over a time its own mini-history of contemporary art.

In “Rendering Homage: Portraits of a Patron,” 50 of those portraits were selected by Fresno Art Museum curators Michele Ellis Pracy and Kristina Hornback. The exhibition opens Friday, May 20, along with two other locally curated shows: “Bob Stocksdale & Kay Sekimachi: Collection of Forrest L. Merrill,” featuring wood-turned and fiber objects from the private collection of the Berkeley collector; and “Fiber Art Master Works,” which I wrote about in my May 15 Spotlight column.

Here’s a rundown on the Quinn and the Stocksdale/Sekimachi shows:

‘Rendering Homage’

The exhibition: It includes works created between 1953 and 2015 by Peter Alexander, Charles Arnoldi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Claire Falkenstein, Sophia Gasparian, Frank Gehry, Robert Graham, David Hockney, George Hurrell, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ed Moses, Mel Ramos, Zandra Rhodes and Ed Ruscha. Organized chronologically by decade, it fills the Hallowell Gallery and the museum lobby area.

The patron: Quinn, an ardent supporter of Armenian causes, loaned works to the museum’s “1915-2015: Tradition, Legacy, Culture” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. A local cousin of hers, Gary Agajanian, is one of the “Rendering Homage” sponsors. Quinn, who was born in Los Angeles, went to the University of Southern California, where she majored in education and journalism. She was the West Coast editor of Andy Warhol’s magazine Interview, was society editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, wrote a column for Art Talk and in February was honored as the longest sitting member appointed to the California Arts Council.

The variety: Don’t expect 50 carbon copies of the same image. As Quinn has said: “Though I’ve played the role of a temporary muse, I consider myself as merely the subject matter, and I’ve always been fascinate to see how these incredible artists interpret what they see in me. And it’s not an ego-driven fascination. In fact, I want to see the hand of the artists in their pieces – not my own visage.”

Bragging rights: While exhibitions drawn from Quinn’s collection have been mounted at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale and the John Wayne Airport, this is the first such museum show, says Ellis Pracy, the art museum’s executive director. In terms of well-known artists, it’s a big deal to see work here by such names as Basquiat, Hockney, Mapplethorpe and Ruscha.

Woodworking and fiber

The exhibition: The museum heralds Bob Stocksdale as “the father of American woodworking.” His lathe-turned bowls are displayed alongside works by Sekimachi’s imaginative fiber vessels. They were longtime partners; the pair married in 1972, and Stocksdale died in 2003. They’re considered American pioneers in contemporary craft.

Look for: The way the works of these two interconnected artists contrast and enhance each other.

Fresno Art Museum summer exhibitions

  • Pre-reception presentations by curators, lenders and artists: 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 20. Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Opening reception $10 non-members. Exhibitions run through Aug. 28. Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St., 559-441-4221. $5 non-members.