Hansen: The value of funding art and science

February 13, 2014|By David Hansen
  • Elizabeth Turk's work is sold by Christie's auctioneer Charlie Adamski at Saturday's fundraiser at the Laguna Art Museum.
Elizabeth Turk's work is sold by Christie's… (Eric Stoner )

If you live in Laguna Beach for any length of time, you start to take art for granted.

Everywhere you walk, there is art. Every weekend, there is some new exhibit. The byproduct of all this art is a certain amount of complacency.

That's not good if you're the Laguna Art Museum.

You might not realize this but the museum is not flush with cash. Of all the non-profits in town, it is often the most precarious financially, according to records. Its expenses have exceeded revenues for the last several years, which is why Saturday night was important.

It was the annual auction and fundraiser. At $125 a ticket, it meant you had to dress up, but it is always a fun event and serves a purpose: helping keep the museum open. It ended up netting the museum about $120,000.

The fact is it takes a lot to keep art alive and interesting. And on Saturday there was a lot of interesting.


There was the work of street artist Shepard Fairey, famous for his 2008 Obama "Hope" poster. There was a compelling portrait by artist Don Bachardy of Santa Monica, who is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Portrait Gallery in London, among others. One of Bachardy's most notable works is the official portrait of Gov. Jerry Brown in the California State Capitol Museum.

And standing next to her work, there was a smiling newcomer, Elizabeth Turk, auctioning one of her new "X-ray Mandala" works.

This was the first time Turk's work was shown in Laguna. Raised in Newport Beach, she now lives in Atlanta and joins a long list of artists who arrive under the radar. Unless you are a savvy collector, you probably don't know her name.

But in 2010 she received a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the "Genius Grant."

I'm going to let that sink in for a second. Google it.

It's a big deal. Because she showed "exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work," she joined the elite ranks of people like Robert Penn Warren, Susan Sontag, Max Roach and David Foster Wallace. Most recipients are scientists of one sort or another: quantum astrophysicists, parasitologists, neuroscientists.

It was Turk's interest in science that led her a year later to land a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship. While working at the Smithsonian, she became fascinated with the beauty of natural shapes.

The museum gave her access to highly specialized equipment and scientific specimens.

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