Summers in Laguna Beach, California are exactly what you would imagine—days spent barefoot in the sand and sun, frolicking through waves under shifting palm trees. (You get the idea.)
But the popular beach city is also renowned for its interesting balance of leisure and culture. The city’s lively arts community sees a flurry of activity in July and August when it hosts the Festival of the Arts, a yearly celebration and prestigious, juried exhibition. Galleries from throughout Southern California display work in the festival, which also includes live music, food and refreshments—a daily experience for locals and a treat for visitors.
Accompanying the Festival of the Arts is the highly celebrated and anticipated Pageant of the Masters, a nightly performance of tableaux vivants (living re-enactments of paintings, which gained popularity in the 19th century). Such performances rarely occur on such a scale as this event. Ticketed viewers watch in an outdoor auditorium as volunteer actors take the positions of some of the world’s most famous artistic treasures. This year’s theme, Art Detective, reveals “how lost treasures were discovered, where crimes of passion were uncovered (or covered up) and how creative riddles were unraveled, with a gallery of the world’s great masterpieces providing the clues.”
The mise-en-scène and careful poses re-create the works so beautifully, at times one cannot believe one’s eyes. Included in this years’ festivities were Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch, John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X and Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (just to name three of the nearly forty works). Set to an orchestral performances, the experience is not only engrossing, but also illuminating, as it offers art historical explanations of sometimes disputed artworks. I encourage any California visitors to fit the Pageant into his or her summer plans.
Below are three of my artist picks from the Festival of the Arts.
Meyers’ portraits are presented in a somewhat unusual medium—a multi-leveled, and multi-colored, arrangement of screws. The variations in the height of these screws creates depth and volume. Meyers fuses sculpture and painting as he highlights and defines the limits of each medium. The works on display during the Festival of the Arts were visually reminiscent of Chuck Close’s pixelated portraiture, a unity of atomized parts, but particularly profound in their dimensionality.
Milton’s watercolors document mid-twentieth-century Americana imagery, primarily neon signage and architecture. The medium of watercolor captures luminosity, flatness and softness like no other, and Milton’s masterful use of it invests his highly realistic works with a dreaminess and dignity. Milton states, “the light patterns, textures and patinas are of special interest. Finding, painting and documenting these vanishing 20th century images have been a quest for more than thirty years.”
“The mood of the piece is the most important element, I try to create figures who show both strength and vulnerability,” says artist Brittany Ryan of her sculpture. She is successful, and her figural bronze sculptures fused with unlikely materials fire one’s tactile senses just by looking at them. The works on display at the Festival of the Arts featured bright, neon pink acrylic. The acrylic acted as a ground for these subtle, yet emotionally charged figures to lounge upon.