I went to Cal State Long Beach the other day and saw an exhibit of Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld’s paintings and drawings from the past 30 years, which are on display inside the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld gallery in the new contemporary art gallery Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld. Museum.
If you think this nested name doll is odd, even in our age of bloated naming opportunities in cultural institutions, you’d be right. I have never seen anything like it. In Los Angeles, one in three artsy buildings appear to be called Geffen or Broad, while in San Diego, it’s Jacobs’s nickname that covers many front doors. Good. Rarely, however, do the large embossed letters of a naming opportunity inside a museum hall identify the same donor whose name is also in large embossed letters on the building outside. Almost never is the art on display produced by the patron of the same name.
Welcome to Long Beach. Here at Cal State University, Kleefelds in Kleefeld in Kleefeld are the new normal. Disturbingly. It’s a train wreck, and a huge disservice to the students.
The exhibition, which includes 10 canvases and 13 works on paper, is a small selection from a gift the artist made to the museum, including 74 of his paintings and 104 of his drawings. Kleefeld’s art now makes up about 6% of the museum’s permanent collection. (I’m not aware of its presence in any other museum’s collection.) His own art will rotate in his dedicated gallery. Her library, personal archives and copies of over 20 inspirational books she has written were also donated.
Did I mention the $10 million check? It came too.
Cal State Long Beach has raised $24 million to expand and renovate the university’s former 4,000-square-foot art museum, in operation since 1973. (It reopened in February.) There are now three exhibition galleries instead of two, an archive of works on paper, a classroom, expanded collection storage, and an expansive lobby. A vestibule features a painting and a large inspirational wall text printed on plexiglass – both by Kleefeld.
“My lifelong passion has been to create art from unconditioned well-being and to inspire such a journey in others,” reports the toothache-provoking signage, proposing that an artist occupies the domain of the spiritual aristocrat. “Living our ultimate purpose is to thrive in our soul’s call, sculpting ourselves into our highest ideal so we can perform at our very best.”
In Kleefeld’s paintings in the Kleefeld Gallery at the Kleefeld Museum, what makes ‘feel good’ so special is that the art is downright terrible – by far the worst I’ve seen on display in a place to be. serious exposure, public or private, profit or non-profit, in years. The gritty romantic fantasy of the numinous artist, isolated from mundane works, turning his back on the modern world to come into contact with higher truths, is exposed. Fiction is full of gift shop quality illustrations depicting cosmic consciousness. (The artist, a longtime resident of Big Sur on California’s Central Coast, most often showed at the luxurious nearby Ventana Inn and Spa.) random drops of color, like the Jackson Pollocks thrift store. Except not as good.
Despite an unproven academic press release touting her “highly acclaimed paintings,” Kleefeld is an undistinguished visual artist in the field. His biography does not reflect any active participation in the broader cultural discourse of art. (Shows at an expensive resort and spa don’t count.) Kleefeld might have prominence in the inspirational self-help or New Age industry – “The Alchemy of Possibilities: Reinventing Your Personal Mythology,” “ Climates of the Mind: Poems and Philosophical Aphorisms” and “Soul Seeds: Revelations and Drawings” are among his minor press titles – but his artistic contribution is virtually nil.
A 2007 painting shows a melting blue female form flattened against a splattered dark brown plane, her head framed by a gold crown. The title is “The Departure of Laura Huxley”. I can’t say if the widow of writer Aldous Huxley, a well-known self-help author and friend of the painter, came out at 96 riding a puff of LSD, as she reported her husband had done before. she. But Kleefeld’s murky illustration of Huxley’s disappearance suggests it’s possible.
The 2010 painting hanging next to it, titled “One Another”, is itself a composition of nesting dolls. The profile heads inserted inside the profile heads are clumsy adaptations of Picasso 70 or 80 years ago. Matryoshka by Marie-Thérèse Walter illustrates human interconnection or, perhaps, the plurality of personalities.
A 1993 drawing titled “Living Space” is an indoor-outdoor overhead view of a table, some potted plants, some candlesticks, and two women in profile, all rendered in wispy lines. The label says this greeting card-quality doodle is made with pastels and colored pens on “imported paper,” which may mean the sheet floated from an astral plane.
A CSULB professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue, said of the exhibit: “If this was a candidate student’s portfolio, it wouldn’t be admitted to the program. The university’s admired art school has approximately 2,000 students in graduate and undergraduate programs and a faculty of over 30.
In the early 1960s, Kleefeld’s late father was a major cultural benefactor in Los Angeles. If S. Mark Taper’s name means anything to you, it’s because his donations helped build the Music Center, where a theater is named after him, as well as the recently demolished Los Angeles County. Art Museum. Adjusted for inflation, these two donations would now total more than $22 million.
Taper’s philanthropy was not born out of any known passion for theater, music, or art. The Polish-born British homebuilder and banker, who died aged 92 in 1994, immigrated to Southern California in the 1930s, and his existing wealth exploded as the region did after World War II . Taper came from a patrician generation who believed that, if one had the financial means, being a good citizen required collaborating with one’s peers to improve the quality of civic life – which he thankfully did.
Interest in the arts is evident in her two daughters. Kleefeld’s sister and late brother-in-law, Janice and Henri Lazarof, donated their impressive, very personal collection of 130 modern European paintings and sculptures to LACMA 15 years ago. The remarkable bequest included 20 paintings by Picasso, seven sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, two versions of Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” sculptures, and works by Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and many others. Whether or not sibling rivalry played a role in the CSULB’s subsequent donation, the difference in the relative importance of art is striking.
A gift deal that includes the ongoing maintenance of a large collection and archive of the donor’s bad art, as well as a gallery dedicated to its display, all in exchange for millions of dollars, makes it impossible not to think” pay to play”. According to Kleefeld Contemporary director Paul Baker Prindle, who was not on staff when the deal was struck, the artist approached the university to donate the paintings, and the school responded favorably, with cash donation request. The $10 million helped build the museum expansion; approximately $7 million has been spent on construction, while other funds will fund operations and scholarships.
Repeated requests for public record by email and telephone to the university regarding the donation were acknowledged but ultimately went unanswered before press time.
Both uses of the gift are potentially beneficial. But the deal is seriously flawed – perhaps irreparably. A permanent part of a public university’s tax-subsidized museum facilities and arts program was effectively privatized to advance the personal interests of a wealthy patron. The CSULB has now pledged to continue in perpetuity a worthless but large-scale artistic project.
What does the university teach students through such an arrangement?
Nizan Shaked is responsible for the school’s museum studies program. His recent book, “Museums and Wealth: The Politics of Contemporary Art Collections,” is an academic analysis of similar dilemmas. Although it does not address the CSULB, its subject is particularly acute given the growing number of museums interested in the art of living artists. Reached by phone, Shaked declined to comment on Kleefeld’s specific arrangement, but described the situation succinctly: “It gives me a problem in terms of teaching best practices.”
I bet. The dilemma is unavoidable. It’s like a university science department setting up a lab to study the fad diets promoted by Dr. Oz, funded by celebrity pseudoscience.
Art museums today profess a cultural commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and CSULB has one of the most diverse student bodies of any public university in the country. Four in five college students identify as BIPOC — Black, Indigenous, and People of Color — according to College Factual, an education data site. (The listings are almost half Latino.) But the kids, BIPOC and white, are shown that private wealth will prevail in the public sphere, even in the absence of real achievement. The cultural philanthropy that cements the privileged status quo continues.
How did the onerous deal come about? A 10-month window opened at the end of 2018, when the then university art museum was without a director. Kimberli Meyer was fired in September, while Baker Prindle, the new director, did not come on board (from the University of Nevada, Reno) until the following July. The Kleefeld arrangement, announced in April 2019, was brokered by the university in the absence of museum management.
The case was a colossal mistake. A public museum – particularly one in a public university with an admired art school that also trains future museum professionals – should focus its main collecting and exhibition resources on two things: established artistic excellence and the art , whether brand new or old and neglected, that he believes promises to achieve that rank. If Cal State Long Beach thinks it is, then the difficulty in teaching best practices isn’t half the problem.