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Millennium Malibu

Art critics are unlikely to swoon at the Weisman Museum’s latest exhibition. People will. On May 22, more than 500 lovers, students and dealers of contemporary traditional art embraced the opening of “On Location in Malibu: Paintings by the California Art Club.”

Friday’s opening at Pepperdine marked the largest since Dr. Michael Zakian took helm of the museum in 1995.

Inspiration for the show came on the heels of last year’s “Historic Landscapes of Malibu,” which Zakian curated. The landmark exhibit captured the splendor and serenity of our town in 40 works dating from 1897 to 1959.

Most notable were a group of 16 paintings by George Gardner Symons and by William Wendt that were commissioned by Frederick H. Rindge, last owner of the Rancho Malibu (In 1892, Rindge purchased the 13,300-acre Spanish Land Grant from Henry Keller for $10 per acre. Matthew “Don Mateo” Keller paid a dime per acre for it in 1857). Cloistered in private collections, many of the paintings had not been seen for 100 years.

Both Symons (1862-1930) and Wendt (1865-1946) emerged as leaders of the Laguna community of en plein air (in open air) painters. Wendt became a founding father of the California Art Club and served as its second president.

It was no accident that when Zakian sought to exult the majesty of modern Malibu, he invited the support of the CAC, the oldest continuing professional art organization in the state. Artists began work last summer, exploring breathtaking shoreline, pastoral streams and mesas, rugged canyons and mountain vistas. They sketched in Serra, beside the Malibu Pier and along Malibu Creek. They caught the waves, the wildflowers, the eucalyptus. And so much more.

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Following review of nearly 400 examples submitted by 93 artists, a committee headed by Zakian selected 66 for the show. Malibu artists S. Burkett Kaiser and Joseph M. Yuhasz are among 47 club members represented in three Weisman galleries.

Founded in 1909, CAC’s formative years coincided with the Golden Age of California Impressionism. The school garnered favor with Los Angeles and San Francisco presses and with real estate developers who used scenic renditions to lure business and settlers to the state.

During the late ’20s, the club flourished at Hollyhock House, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed estate of Aline Barnsdall. Amid lush gardens and olive groves overlooking Hollywood, CAC sponsored non-stop exhibits and lectures on art, architecture, film, literature, music and theater. It was an era of outdoor performances, salon dinners and society balls (Susan Landauer provides an opulent account in American Art Review; March, 1996).

After the onset of World War II, five decades passed before Peter Adams, a Pasadena artist and fourth-generation Californian, was to rescue the club from near obscurity.

Since 1993, when Adams assumed presidency, CAC has enjoyed exhibitions at the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles; Academy of Art College, San Francisco; Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard; Springville Museum of Art, Utah; Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana and Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton. The club is in negotiation with Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage to host its 90th anniversary exhibit next year.

For tourists descending upon Malibu beaches or trekking toward the Santa Monica Mountain recreation areas, “On Location” provides a cultural complement to the expected pastimes of summer. For locals, the show may reflect our very souls.

“On Location in Malibu: Paintings by the California Art Club,” 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Aug. 7, closed Mondays; Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy.; 310.456.4851.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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