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Art & Nature in Laguna

The Art & Nature conference and festival takes place November 7-10.

Artist Jim Denevan drawing in the sand at Main Beach

One often hears architects, artists and other creative minds mention a sense of place, that interaction with its surroundings that makes a building, park or other space truly special. Laguna Art Museum is one of California’s premiere cultural centers, and has been for some 100 years. When the Laguna Beach Art Association searched for a spot to build an art gallery back in 1929, they chose the bluff above Main Beach for the gallery that evolved into the museum, and it’s where LAM still stands.

Still, for such a stunning location along one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world, the museum hasn’t had much of a sense of place in relation to the ocean and nature outside its walls. While a significant portion of its permanent collection is strongly connected to the natural world and the Laguna locale, especially the works of California Impressionists from the 19th century, the museum itself has no gardens, no views, and has included few if any exhibits in the past decade that escaped the confines of the museum’s galleries.

But this month LAM is breaking down the walls of the museum (metaphorically, at least) to expose the artistic experience to the sky, sand and sea.

The Art & Nature conference and festival takes place November 7-10. It celebrates the many ways in which artists have interacted with the natural world in the past, and intriguing ways in which they still do today.

Main Beach will be the site of a giant work drawn in the sand by Jim Denevan. The surfer and artist from Santa Cruz waits for low tide, and then, using sticks and rakes, he covers an entire beach in his designs, which by their nature are ephemeral. With the help of Laguna Beach High School students, he’ll trace the completed drawing with solar lanterns, making the design light up at night.

The work brings to mind a favorite Ray Bradbury short story titled “In a Season of Calm Weather,” in which a man vacationing in the south of France comes upon Picasso on the beach using a stick to sketch wonderful works in the sand. Later, the man’s wife asks him what he’s listening to. “Just the tide,” he replied.

Many of Laguna’s most interesting art galleries, including SALT Fine Art, Art Cube Gallery and Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow, are getting in on the act, featuring exhibits linked to the art and nature theme.

Peter Blake Gallery will show The Nature of Abstraction, featuring work by some of the gallery’s stellar roster of artists, including Peter Alexander, Charles Arnoldi and Lita Albuquerque.

The Art & Nature event is also a great time to check out the museum’s related exhibits, including Tanya Aguíñiga’s Sea Change, which uses textiles and other unexpected materials to transform the museum’s mezzanine gallery into a fanciful undersea forest, and Adam Silverman: Clay and Space, the ceramacist’s first museum show that includes pots he made out of materials from Laguna Beach that were fired on the beach.

For those with a taste for the classics, the museum will feature nature-themed works from its permanent collection, including historic landscape paintings by big-name California Impressionists like Frank Cuprien, Edgar Payne and William Wendt, among many others.

As usual, the more avant-garde fare will be found as part of Laguna Art Museum’s ex•pose series, curated by the always-cool Grace Kook-Anderson, LAM’s curator of contemporary art. The fifth exhibition in the series opened October 27 and features an installation of films that will surround the visitor in a visual collage of scenes filmed in India, N.Y.C. and L.A. juxtaposing nature and urban scenes.

There will also be a free Family Festival November 10, featuring everything from face painting and interactive art offerings to environmental and educational opportunities provided by local eco-activists and nonprofits, including The Aquarium of the Pacific’s mobile aquarium. Plus, there will be bands, balloons and all the usual festival fun.

And for scientists, scholars and the intellectually curious, the conference will include lectures and panel discussions all week, including a keynote opening talk by esteemed California historian and author Kevin Starr, as well as artists’ talks and performances.

The Art & Nature event is planned to be an annual one, the goals of which are ambitious: “to provide a festival of art and ideas for the community; to inspire artists; to offer scientists a sense of what their work means in the wider culture; to find and develop connections between art and science; to raise awareness of environmental issues; and to celebrate Laguna Beach as a center for the appreciation of art and nature.”

And ambition is a good thing. But even if you don’t attend one lecture or panel, this is a great excuse to get out and enjoy the art and beauty of Orange County.

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