The new film "The Monuments Men" tells of a special squad of art historians and museum curators who go behind enemy lines to prevent centuries of fine art from being destroyed by Nazi troops at the end of World War II. It is based on a true story.
But the film got us thinking: What if there was a threat to the artwork at our Southern California museums and galleries? What would we save?
We asked the folks who are the caretakers of these items of our culture and heritage about their most treasured pieces of art. Here are their responses:
"THE CALYDONIAN BOAR HUNT" BY PETER PAUL REUBENS
Oil on panel Getty Museum, Los Angeles
It represents one of the greatest artists at the very top of his game and in complete control of his brush telling a specific story and in a clear and direct fashion.
Scott Schaefer, curator emeritus
"UNTITLED" BY JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT
Crayon and oilstick drawing on paper Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an early graffiti artist who is considered a founder of the current Street Art movement. This drawing is a prime example of his passionate, expressionist style from the early 1980s, which many people consider to be the best period of his art. His work included social commentary focused on the status of African-Americans in a dominant white society.
This vibrant drawing includes all of his signature themes and images: lists of African-American boxers including Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, a Lincoln penny, Jackie Robinson, a king's crown. Combining vehement writing and fervent images, this drawing is rendered in a direct and bold childlike manner, a perfect example of his signature style.”
"GROWTH" BY JEAN ARP
Sculpture Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs
Although we have many outstanding and valuable works in our collection, the one that has always spoke to me is the 1938 sculpture ‘Growth' by artist Jean Arp. This work has been on loan to the Palm Springs Art Museum since the 1950s, but was just recently given to the museum in honor of our executive director Steve Nash on the occasion of the museum's 75th anniversary. The fluidity of the movement, the voluptuousness of the form and the gentle shape of the work has always drawn me in and brightens my day whenever I view it.
Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zurich, who was later involved with the surrealists. Arp questioned traditional notions of art and often suggested witty titles to his artworks to suggest an object's counterpoint in the physical world. Arp was a leader in the development of the organic, curving language of biomorphism, which infused surrealism with forms alluding to growth, fruitfulness and the natural world.
In the early 1930s, Arp began to translate his abstract style into three-dimensional sculptures, emphasizing the natural processes of metamorphosis in art. The artist often realized his sculptures first in plaster, a medium that responded easily to touch and allowed for the element of chance in the creative process, and later the forms were cast in bronze in limited editions.
Bob Bogard, director of marketing communications
"CHIMBORAZO" BY FREDERIC EDWIN CHURCH
Oil on canvas Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino
In the Huntington's collection of American painting, the work I most treasure is ‘Chimborazo' by Frederic Church. Church was one of a small number of North American artists to travel to South America in the 1850s. While there, he made detailed studies of his observations with the eye of a naturalist. Upon his return, he compiled many of those observations in the monumental canvas, ‘Chimborazo.
The result is a painting that serves as a sort of compendium of his travels, from the semitropical foreground to the higher, more arid elevations, rather than any one actual point of view.
Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art
"PROMETHEUS" BY JOSE CLEMENTE OROZCO
Prepartory drawings Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont
Pomona College has the first mural painted in the United States by one of Los Tres Grandes (the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Siqueros). Painted in 1930 by Jose Clemente Orozco, ‘Prometheus' dominates Frary Dining Hall on the Pomona campus. Of course, one can't carry a large plaster wall from a burning building. What I would save from the museum are the preparatory drawings for the mural, made on-site here by Orozco in 1930. They are unique referents to a major work of art that is part of the DNA of Pomona College and a masterwork of American painting. The artist Jackson Pollock called it ‘the greatest painting done in modern times.' So I would carry to safety Orozco's drawings for ‘Prometheus': unique, irreplaceable, an important part of Pomona's history, as well as an important work in the history of 20th century art.
Kathleen Stewart Howe, the Sarah Rempel and Herbert S. Rempel 23 director
SAM MALOOF CHAIR
The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts & Crafts, Alta Loma
We have exactly one example of Sam's earliest chairs, which is arguably the rarest and most extraordinary piece in our collection. It comes with a great story: Years after making the piece, Sam came across it while visiting in someone's home, where the chair sat outdoors, forgotten and almost unrecognizable. By then, the chair's finish was worn by time and weather, and the original white cotton clothesline seat and back had been replaced by plywood. Sam asked to buy the chair, and then restored it to its original condition.
I love the simple, square lines of the piece because it tells us something about where art begins — not in the most perfect and shapely lines of Sam's later and most masterful creations, but in a young craftsman's first, humble attempts to transform raw wood into a simple, beautiful, functional creation. That chair says that within each of us, there is a seed of imagination with the potential to change the world. That chair tells me that genius is not inherited, but instead evolves as a consequence of practice in the pursuit of a vision. I think that chair teaches us something about our humanity. That's why if there's ever a fire or flood, that's the chair I'll grab on the way out the door.
Jim Rawitsch, executive director
Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach
The collection at the Museum of Latin American Art was assembled to present an entire picture of modern and contemporary art from Latin America. Removing any representative work of art would create an unfortunate void.
Stuart A. Ashman, MOLAA's president and CEO
Follow Michelle Mills on Twitter: @mickieszoo