Archive for July 9th, 2011
“Imagine growing up watching the person you love most being bludgeoned, immolated, dunked in boiling wax… or doing those things to other people,” remarked Victoria Price, the willowy daughter of Vincent, as an eclectic mix of art patrons and horror buffs looked on. Gathered recently at the Downtown Independent, they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of her father’s birth.
Price–who appeared in 105 movies and has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—is best known for his ghoulish performances. But the St. Louis-born, Yale-educated actor, gourmet cook, “grey-listed” activist and art collector, was also, unbeknownst to most Angelenos, responsible for creating the first public art institution in Los Angeles.
The Vincent Price Art Museum opened before the Getty was exactly a museum, before LACMA, before the Fowler, and sits on the campus of East Los Angeles College, “a major art legacy that hardly anyone knows about.”
Vincent and his wife Mary were fixtures of the emerging So Cal art world. After accepting an invitation to visit the modest art program at ELAC, the Prices were so impressed by the multicultural, working-class student body that they donated 90 pieces (then valued at over $5 million) to the campus, which Vincent described as “two Quonset huts on a mud flat.” Opening in 1957, the Museum now boasts a permanent collection of over 9,000 pieces (2,000 of which were later donated by Price, many donated by the artists themselves), and includes works by Howard Warshaw, Arnold Mesches, and Kaethe Kollwitz.
In 2009, campus growth dictated that the museum’s large, one-room space be re-purposed. This past May, over 1,000 people celebrated the museum’s grand re-opening, in a thoroughly modern four-story building which features three floors of gallery space for temporary exhibitions as well as displays from the permanent collection. Director Karen Rapp has taken into account “the artistic and cultural legacy of the area,” she says. “I think about what the audience needs to know.” The Museum serves students, first and foremost, and to that end, gallery walls include more information than your average museum.
The evolution of Mexican cultural identity can be traced in The Makings of Mexican Modernism,” which hangs in one of three galleries devoted to objects from the permanent collection, and includes works from influential artists including Jose Guadalupe Posada, Rafael Coronel, Jose Luis Cuevas and Rufino Tamayo. The Pre-Columbian pottery and sculpture of Form and Function in the Ancient Americas, which opened June 21, focuses heavily on pieces from West Mexico and Peru, and is among the most impressive collections of its kind. Rapp recalls a meeting where the collection’s largest piece—a crouching incensario from Veracruz—sat on the table. “Pete [Galindo] said, ‘what are we going to do if there’s an earthquake?’ Right after he said that, there was a 5.2 temblor.”
Print maker and painter Sonia Romero chose “consumption” as the first theme for Hoy!, which Rapp calls a “freebie space” highlighting contemporary issues through art. The Museum also boasts a lecture hall and non-circulating art library.
Round Trip: Eight East Los Angeles Alumni Artists, was a no-brainer show for the grand re-opening. Price, who passed away in 1993, knew most of the artists personally, and in general, “took immense pride in the art careers of the students.” In the early ’70s, three of the artists featured in Round Trip—Gronk, Willie Herron III, and Pattsi Valdez—co-founded ASCO with Harry Gamboa, Jr., which, as Max Benavidez writes in the show’s catalog, used “guerrilla street performance, video, film, photography and conceptual art to upstage the mainstream art world and proclaim the outsider existentialism of Chicana/o artists.” East LA native Pete Galindo sits on VPAM’s Board of Directors. “So many ELAC students have gone on to become artists, curators, thanks to this access to world-class art.” He notes how amazing it is to “finally see the state putting resources into this place that Price had done decades ago,” but it was not without a struggle. Cue arts advocate Wallace Albertson, a spitfire of a woman at age 87, the founding (and still sitting) Chair of VPAM’s Board of Directors. Albertson, who sat on the Board of Trustees for the LA community college district, fought tooth and nail to ensure that VPAM became it’s own foundation. (This mean that when Thomas Silliman, VPAM director from 1957 to 2006, passed away leaving his entire estate to the Museum, it went to the Museum.)
Back at the Independent, Victoria, a willowy designer based in Santa Fe, explained that her father—who studied to be an art historian–“didn’t want to be a matinee idol.” Price turned down a $1 million contract… in 1935. “He made really bad movies in really bad places,” Victoria joked, claiming that he chose roles based on the quality of the art found on location.
After Price was ‘grey-listed,” alongside such notable anti-Nazi sympathizers as Eleanor Roosevelt, he returned to the big screen in House of Wax, a rare 3D screening of which closed the evening. In it, Price plays an artist driven mad. He took obvious delight in his horror roles, while at the same time, lecturing on art around the country. Price even opened his own gallery. A home for, “as he said, ‘intellectuals and inebriates,’” which included his patronee, Henry Miller.
The impact Price’s exuberant philanthropy has had on Los Angeles in immeasurable, and one can’t help but wonder why, in this age of uber-wealth, no celebrity has taken his cue. Contemplating this, Mike, a fan dressed as a Victorian pallbearer and snacking on hors d’oeuvres created from the Prices’ 1965 best-seller, A Treasury of Great Recipes, attempted an explanation. “It’s almost like, back then, it was in color, and now it’s in black and white.”