Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pot Luck

I was invited to a potluck recently at the home of a kind person who happens to be a generous supporter of the arts. The address was in a cul-de-sac, down a winding residential road off a coastal canyon.

What was my first clue this wasn't an ordinary potluck? Seeing something like this arching over the house, beyond the gate:

No, not this one, this one belongs to the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown. But our hostess has one like it by the same artist. (Actually, I like hers better than MOCA's).

We were greeted kindly by our hostess and offered a glass of wine. Then we were invited to tour her home and garden - but finish your wine, please before entering the galleries.

The party included art scholars, curators and several artists themselves, so as we toured we learned about the pieces we were seeing - a priceless course in art education.

This collection outgrew the striking wood and glass Ray Kappe house several years ago, and a gallery was built to house new acquisitions. Some years later, a second gallery space was built - they face one another across an elegantly paved courtyard displaying a Chris Burden lamp-post and a horse sculpture by Deborah Butterfield.

Among the pieces in the second gallery were a Pae White mobile and a Murakami diptych.

The house itself is a work of art, and we marveled at what we found there. Multiple levels connected by pathways, staircases, and decks created frames through which to view the artworks. Standing in the living room, one can view a Dale Chihuly piece framed through a doorway into the other room. Descending a stair from the sleeping wing, one can view two leopard sculptures mounted atop the woodwork that holds the kitchen cabinets.

The master bedroom is a cube of glass among the treetops - the stars must look wonderful overhead at night, and the little deck off the room perches over the lower courtyard - a magnificent view.

In addition to the artwork, there were collections of things deeply personal. I spotted shelves of glittering crystal from across the room. As I came closer, I realized the pieces were fragments. Another visitor explained that a collection of fine crystal had been shattered in the Northridge earthquake and, unable to throw it all away, our hostess had saved what remained of pieces she'd loved.

In one room there is a collection of hats bought by our hostess on her travels - including one she bought because her hotel in Rome was right next to the shop that made regalia for the Vatican. She smiled naughtily as she told the story of how she talked them into selling it to her.

A massive wooden beam flanking a long gangway holds a collections of rocks - simply rocks picked up as souvenirs from all over the world. Most are small - she probably slipped them into her handbag - and each is labeled with the name of its origin. Together, ranged along the walkway they look like a sculptural work themselves.

There is so much art and beauty in the house that I felt I lost the boundary we often put between art and our lives. Was this a beautiful scupture that I hesitated to touch, or was it the banister I should grip as I climbed the stairs?

We were called to dinner, and ate on the deck surrounding the pool. For potluck, it was pretty swank - cold grilled salmon, heirloom tomatoes, roasted vegetables and a delicious pasta salad. In the center of the table was the head of a pick-axe, so thickly rusted it looked furred.

Again, I felt the boundary slip. Was this also a sculpture, I asked my dining companions, or was it simply an old pick-axe found on the property, perhaps while excavating the pool or laying the flagstones or digging the caissons for the odd redwood structure above us on the hill?

I don't usually say much when I'm with people from the Art World, because I don't know enough about it. But on that evening, perhaps the wine had gone to my head, or just the sheer immersion in so much art did it to me. I found myself comfortably talking about art - while in the company of some pretty serious artists and art scholars. And if I was naive, they were kind enough not to point it out.

After dinner and before dessert, just as dusk was falling, we were herded up the hillside toward that hillside structure, through an oval portal into a grey-walled room fitted with a wooden bench that curved beneath us as we settled in.

This is a Skyspace, an installation by artist James Turrell. You can read about these installations at this New York Times article. The ceiling has an opening to the sky. The indirect lighting that washes the plaster ceiling is computer programmed to change slowly as the sky itself changes at dusk. What's amazing here is the contrast between sky and ceiling, the two-dimensional quality it has before your eyes, and the subtle change of colors. As you watch, it goes from gentle blue to electric blue to deep midnight blue - and when you step out of the womb-like oval the sky looks nothing like it looked inside.

Our hostess said it was often a spiritual experience, and it was - but we were with artists and like car mechanics, they like to look under the hood. So instead of lapsing into awed silence, we marveled aloud at what we saw, how it worked, and discussed the stagecraft of the trick. The sculptors in the crowd checked out the drainage, and talked about the structure's geometry.

Then we all had ice cream.

You know what I liked best, though? The guest powder room had a ceiling that looked like this one:

Photo from Dale Chihuly website

Only it wasn't exactly that one. But it was by the same artist. My friend's ceiling is even better.


kcinnova said...

You have some incredible friends! (All friends are incredible, but I think you know what I mean.) Thank you so much for sharing your evening with us. I am turning over the words in my mind and imagining the beautiful experiences of the art you described.

You know I'm from the PacNW, so it's no surprise that I am fond of Dale Chihuly creations.
Have you been to the Glass Museum in Tacoma?

Queenly Things said...

Saw a Chris Burden exhibit 20 years ago in Newport Beach. I've got to say, I like the lamp post installation alot though it seems a little tamer than most what I saw that day. He is a thought-provoking artist.
What a magnificent potluck dinner! Lucky lady.

Crystal said...

I'm feeling like I've been very un-artucated in my life.

KathyR said...

Her neighbors in the Riviera Palisades that look out their windows and off their decks at the Rubins thing are not so delighted. Great house, though, huh?

g said...

Kathy - she's got 2 Rubins, you can see one on Google Maps! Talk about a "borrowed view!"

I don't mind the kayaks - I think they're pretty cool.

Whiskeymarie said...

I didn't even see the house, yet I'm INSANELY jealous of it right now. Sounds like a fabulous evening.