LAGUNA BEACH, CA.-
Dr. Malcolm Warner, executive director of Laguna Art Museum
since 2012, has announced his retirement. He will continue to lead the museum through December 2020, following the eighth annual Art & Nature and the opening of the exhibition Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns.
From the start, I wanted to play up the museums commitment to California art, which I felt should be even more emphatic than it already was, said Warner of his aims. I thought we should position ourselves as strongly as possible as the place to see the best of all kinds of California art, from the early twentieth-century landscape painting with which the museum was so closely associated to contemporary works. Im pleased that our exhibitions have ranged so widely, from Anna Hills to Wayne Thiebaud, Granville Redmond to Tony DeLap. During my time weve recognized the extraordinary flourishing of landscape painting in Laguna with the founding of the Laguna Beach Art Association while presenting installation and performance pieces by progressive contemporary artists as part of the annual Art & Nature festival. It has been interesting for me, as a relative newcomer to the field, to see commonalities emergea reverence for nature, a fascination with light.
When I arrived, there was no-one on the staff devoted full-time to education or development, which was an obvious opportunity for growth. Now these are thriving departments. I have been extremely fortunate throughout in working with a staff who have been as collegial, professional, and dedicated as any I have known in my museum career. The museum building looked very much in need of some TLC when I arrived, and Im proud to have had the chance, thanks to the Citys support, to renovate the previously all-too-basement-like lower level to the designs of the talented architect Anders Lasater. If I have a regret, its not to see the facelift of the exterior that I hoped to see through. May that come about soon!
My priority on leaving the museum is to finish the catalogue of the works of John Everett Millais on which Ive been working for more years than I care to remember at this point. Hopefully Ill also be returning to curatorial work with some freelance exhibition projects. Meanwhile Ill be watching the museum continue to thrive, as Im sure it will under the leadership of our stellar board of trustees and the new executive director.
Before joining Laguna Art Museum, Dr. Warner was Deputy Director at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut; and Curator of European Art at the San Diego Museum of Art. He received his PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, and his doctoral dissertation was on the British Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. The leading authority on Millais, he has been compiling a catalogue raisonné of the artists works, a long-term project he intends to complete in retirement.
With Warners leadership, the museum has doubled its endowment, doubled its annual budgetfrom approximately $1.5 million to $3 millionexpanded its staff, especially in the areas of education and development, and elevated its status and visibility, presenting critically acclaimed exhibitions and outstanding art education programs for children and adults. The museums excellence in exhibitions and education has helped garner between $2 and 3 million per year in contributed income, including over $300,000 in grants from the Getty Foundation, multiple grants in excess of $100,000, a $1 million challenge grant for the endowment, and a $1 million challenge grant over four years from the City of Laguna Beach. The City grant has funded capital improvements, including the renovation of the historic lower-level galleries.
Thanks to generous donations by collectors, foundations, and artists, the museums permanent collection has grown by over 250 works of art during Warners tenure. They include Wayne Thiebauds Jolly Cones (2002), William Wendts Laguna Coast (1930), an untitled composition by Helen Lundeberg (1960), Lorser Feitelsons Bathers (1942), three paintings and 33 drawings and prints by Frederick Hammersley, 42 works on paper by Stanton Macdonald-Wright, and major works by Billy Al Bengston, Alson Clark, Dan Douke, Claire Falkenstein, George Herms, Kenton Nelson, Manuel Neri, Nancy Rubins, and Peter Shelton.
Among the Laguna Art Museum exhibitions Warner curated himself were Artemio Sepúlveda (2020), Dan McCleary: Prints from Oaxaca (2017-2018), and California Printmakers, 19502000 (2015). He contributed forewords to numerous exhibition catalogues published by the museum, including Tony Delap: A Retrospective (2018), California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930 (2017), Helen Lundeberg: A Retrospective (2016), and Marcia Hafif, The Inventory: Painting (2015). He also authored the lavishly illustrated commemorative book Laguna Art Museum: A Centennial History, 19182018 (2018), part of a successful year-long celebration of the museums founding organization, the Laguna Beach Art Association.
With Warners appointments of a curator and assistant curators of education, the museum has developed an active program of outreach to teachers and community organizations in Laguna Beach and Santa Ana, with school tours, family art studios, family festivals, and summer camps. The team has initiated successful adult programs, including popular music and dance performances in the galleries, film screenings, and lectures.
In 2013 Warner launched the most widely-attended initiative in the history of the museum, Art & Nature, an annual program centered on a large-scale, commissioned work of art and public programs on the theme of arts engagement with the natural world. The annual commission, undertaken by leading California artists including Lita Albuquerque, Laddie John Dill, Phillip K. Smith III, and Elizabeth Turk, has expanded the museums reputation while celebrating the identity of Laguna Beach as a city of art, love of nature, and environmental awareness. The Art & Nature keynote lecture has featured such renowned speakers as California historian Kevin Starr and Leonardo da Vinci expert Martin Kemp.
Malcolm has been so critical in advancing the mission of the Museum, said Joe Hanauer, Chair of the museums Board of Trustees. Long thought of as solely a place for early California landscape painters, today the Museum is highly acclaimed as a center to enjoy important works of California art and artists from the early California period to contemporary. Similarly all art forms can be seen in the Museums exhibitions. While the Museum has launched an international search for its next executive director we look forward to Malcolms continuing engagement from time to time as a guest curator and for his valuable counsel. Most important, we are deeply grateful for the legacy he leaves Laguna Art Museum and wish him and Sara all the best.