“Come on,” says Reesey Shaw, director of Lux Art Institute in Encinitas. “If you've never been here before, you have to see the place.”
She leads me away from the gleaming expanse of conference table and my best laid plans. I cast a quick look backwards at my pens, my photos and my copious notes. Shaw is holding the door for me, her face expectant. I'm led to her office, where Shaw, whose speech and movement are animated by a palpable passion for her work, motions enthusiastically to the wall behind her desk. A medallion has been carved into the drywall with all the grace and near symmetry of an organic form. Pointed bits of relief cast slight shadows in the late morning light.
“It's beautiful, isn't it?” she asks. Shaw explains that Tomás Rivas, a Chilean artist who took up residence in the Institute last year, bounded into the office one day and spontaneously carved the piece into not-yet-dry wall while an incredulous contractor looked on. “I just love it,” she says. “I can't imagine the wall without it.”
And now having heard Shaw's anecdote, I can't imagine the piece apart from the lively story of how it came to be. That's really been the mission at Lux for the past two years: removing art from the hermetic circumstances in which we usually view it and placing it within the dynamic context of the creative process. Lux is a museum in which you don't just see art, you “see art happen.”
Rather than housing permanent collections or traveling exhibitions, Lux is built around a unique artist-in-residence program that encourages an intimate level of interaction between the public and the artistic process. So often considered in isolation, museum art is severed—in any tangible way—from both its history and its creator. Lux rectifies this disconnect by inviting a series of artists to take up residence at the institute, one at a time, and work on a commissioned piece for the duration of their stay. The public is encouraged to attend not once, but twice (a ticket is good for two visits), in order to get a true sense of the artists' progression. Shaw explains that residence programs have historically allowed for too much “mucking around.” Lux works with its visiting artists to compose a detailed plan highlighting the more dynamic and illuminative aspects of the creative process. The artists' work isn't choreographed, but their time at Lux is guided by a distinct, underlying purpose.
“Sitting in a chair thinking may be an integral aspect of creation,” says Shaw. “But it's not interesting to watch.”
Shaw guides me into an empty exhibition room that will shortly house the work of Elizabeth Turk, the first visiting artist of the 2009-10 season, and Turk herself is on hand to assist with the installation. The first sculptor to take up residence at Lux, she's a perfect example of the way in which connecting art to its maker and her process adds welcome dimension to what could otherwise be a fairly static conception of the work. Turk's photos were among those over which I pored in preparation for my visit and as pure objects, her marble sculptures—ornate Elizabethan collars and spindly skeletal structures—are undeniably beautiful.
But when considered in relation to Turk, whose petite, comely appearance belies (for better or worse) the image typically conjured by the word sculptor, the work inspires a deeper level of appreciation. To be confronted with the artist is to be confronted with the notion of what it must take to coax such impossibly delicate forms from unyielding blocks of stone. It's to consider the sculpture as more than a mere object, but as a physical extension of Turk's being.
In-studio Sept. 10 through Oct. 3 and on exhibit through Oct. 31, Turk will be followed by Susan Hauptman (in studio Nov. 12 through 21, on exhibit through Jan. 9). An enigmatic self-portraitist known for her intense methods, Hauptman's charcoal drawings will bring with them the opportunity to observe an artist who's both subject and object, the perceiver and the perceived. Self-portraiture seems such an intimate, personal pursuit, and Hauptman's work in particular is fraught with symbolism and the physical trappings of pain. I can only imagine that to watch her work would be to watch her manifest a wounded portion of her psychic self.
The 2009-10 season will include two European artists: the Bulgarian-born Iva Gueoruieva, who teaches painting and drawing at UCLA, and Seti Zech, a native German currently based in Berlin. Both women work in abstraction (Gueoruieva is a painter while Zech combines elements of painting, drawing and sculpture), and their time in-studio will provide the public a window to one of the more mystifying aspects of artistic process—the creation of non-representational art (Gueoruieva is in-studio Jan. 16 through Feb. 6 and on exhibit through March 17; Zech is in-studio June 5 through 26 and on exhibit through July 31).
Shaw wraps up our visit by leading me outside to the sprawling ground surrounding the Institute. Lux has recently purchased an adjacent plot of land and is preparing for the second phase of its development, which will see the construction of more exhibition and studio space, as well as a museum store, café and plaza. The buildings are bordered by a wildlife preserve extending to the ocean, and scrubby, indigenous plants—the kind designed to withstand wind and sun—are crouched in the surrounding hills. Standing out amid the shrubbery, an obviously foreign form of cool, blue aluminum is reaching for the sky.
“That's Robert Lobe,” Shaw says, explaining that Lobe is a New York artist who uses an adapted version of the ancient process of repoussé. Wrapping sheets of malleable metal around trees, boulders and other natural objects, Lobe pounds the surface with a rubber mallet, transferring the object's shape and texture the surrounding material.
“Can you imagine?' she asks wistfully, staring out at the hulking form of aluminum trunk.
I won't have to. Lobe will be in-studio at Lux March 27 through April 24 and on exhibit through May 22.
Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.