The Business of Art
Day 3 of the Art Guild Trip.
Packing up and loading the bus at the reasonable hour of 9, we drove to an industrial park to the studio of Richard MacDonald, a noted figurative sculptor.
I’ve seen lots of artist studios. They are usually cluttered, small, and overburdened with work in various stages of completion. Not here. This is a 24,000 square foot factory, employing perhaps 30 talented artisans, which cranks out a steady stream of bronze sculpture.
On Wednesday, we visited the Hawthorne Gallery, where they take pride in the fact that each piece they sell is unique. At the MacDonald Studio, creating an endless stream of copies of a few memorable sculptures is the raison d’etre. There is definite artistry here, but it is art in thrall to commerce.
Before we could enter, we were all required to sign confidentiality agreements, pledging not to reveal what we saw inside. Fortunately, there is really nothing to violate–we didn’t see anything special or secret, just a well oiled machine for the production of art on a schedule.
The art here tends to the monumental–MacDonald makes really big pieces to adorn public facilities like the Olympics or the London Ballet. Then smaller versions are sold to the public.
Although there is just the one factory, MacDonald maintains 2 other studios–one in Las Vegas, to sculpt the artists of the Cirque du Soleil, one in London to sculpt the dancers of the London Ballet. He shuttles among them week by week. It’s a rough life.
The marketing is relentless. We were offered copies of a book of MacDonald sculptures for $39.95, or $69.95 signed by the artist. I’ve never seen an artist selling autographs before. They held a raffle for one of the books; the entry was an information sheet so they could put us all on the mailing list. The great man himself was somewhere on the premises, but did not deign to meet with us. He said hello privately to our tour leader, but then she owns one of his works.
Richard MacDonald is undeniably a great artist–his ability to recreate the human form in bronze is exceptional. That he has chosen to leverage his talent to make a huge pile of money is certainly a valid choice. There is no particular virtue in being a starving artist, being rich and famous is a pretty reasonable way to go.
We had a pleasant lunch at Tarpy’s, named for a vigilante who got hanged for shooting a neighbor in a land dispute. Live by the mob rule, die by the mob rule.
Our final stop was the Monterey Museum of Art–which has more than one location, as we found out when we went to the wrong site. But that was just a minor glitch, we just got back on the bus and motored to the right building. We were there to see the work of Johnny Apodaca, who may be the nicest guy in the entire county.
Formally trained in the school of abstract expressionism, Johnny made a living as a hospital orderly for 25 years while continuing to paint. He has found a way to blend abstraction with realism to create his own very emotive style.
I really liked this work. I like the artist, I like the art, I like the museum it is hanging in. Johnny was a pleasure to listen to, and just to be around. He is warm and open and easy to talk to. I guess you can tell which of the artists we visited today I prefer.
Finally, back on the bus for the 2 hour drive to Oakland. We had a wonderful trip, beautifully planned and executed by Sharon and Bev. We saw some incredible art, and some very interesting places. If you want to explore the art world the easy way, come on a trip or two–most of the them are simple day trips, other excursions go all over the world. Broaden your horizons and let Pete do the driving.