Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns”: exhibition tour

Last month, the Laguna Art Museum recorded my tour of Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns.” This exhibition includes over forty items that compose the painter’s latest circus-themed body of work. The show has been installed at the museum since early December 2020, but is yet to be opened to to public due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In this thirty minute walk-through I discuss a dozen paintings, drawings (including mixed media drawings), and etchings in the exhibition. LAM will re-open March 26. Until then, here is my modest contribution. Covid hair comes with. 🙂

Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns”: catalogue essay

I am delighted to have had a chance to contribute an essay for the catalogue of Wayne Thiebaud’s Clowns exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum. You can purchase the catalogue in LAM’s online store.

Wayne Thiebaud’s “Clowns”: Online Lecture

Art historian Julia Friedman discusses the great California artist’s work, including his latest paintings currently on view in the exhibition Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns.

LAM California Cool 2021 Auction Highlights: Virtual Tour

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 annual California Cool Auction at the Laguna Art Museum is entirely online. Here is my virtual tour of the auction where I highlight some of this year’s hidden gems.

Classicism by Decree: “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”

Athenaeum Review, Issue 5, Winter 2021

The Winter 2021 issue of arts and humanities quarterly Athenaeum Review is out on newsstands. Its Current Affairs section contains my essay “Classicism by Decree” (pp. 148–155) about an attempted change in the aesthetic direction of federal architecture in the US. Since 1962, the General Services Administration (the same governmental body that was recently in the news for not “ascertaining” the results of 2020 presidential race) has been relying on the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture with its two-fold requirement of practicality and symbolism in all federal buildings. These requirements were put in place  the aim of maximizing architectural innovation while upholding quality and longevity of construction. The new rules, if signed into law, would mandate that all federal buildings shall be erected in “classical architectural style.” In the essay, I discuss the pitfalls of promoting one specific architectural style at the expense of an open meritocratic competition. This is especially the case if the preferred style is a derivation of classicism, given the contentious history of association between classical architecture and totalitarian regimes in the past century. Mandating classicism by decree seems like a very bad idea.

Update: On December 22, President Trump signed “Make Federal Architecture Beautiful Again” Executive Order into law. Here is a link to the coverage of the Executive Order, across the political spectrum.


Moderated by Crocker Art Museum Associate Director & Chief Curator Scott A. Shields, Ph.D., this informative discussion between three people connected to Wayne Thiebaud will center around insights and unique experiences. Join the artist’s daughter, model, and writer Twinka Thiebaud; painter and professor Hearne Pardee; and critic and art historian Julia Friedman, Ph.D., for a singular program on Thiebaud and his life.

When: December 5th, 2 PM (PST)

Recording of the panel. Courtesy of the Crocker Art Museum.

Philip Guston (Not) Now: the Impact Argument

October was a watershed month for the museum world. A week before the month started, the National Gallery of Art announced that the long-anticipated Philip Guston retrospective, already delayed because of pandemic-related closures, was to be postponed for another four years, until the summer of 2024, for reasons that could be best described as ideological. By the end of the month, the administration’s decision to postpone was amended with a new date of 2022, now two years out. The initial postponement prompted an impressive public pushback, which likely caused the NGA to cave in, offering a compromise date. I attempted to explain what had happened, and why, in an essay recently published by the Athenaeum Review.

Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969. Oil on canvas, 121.9 x 106.7 cm / 48 x 42 in. © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Private Collection. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

“If considerations of “impact” supersede considerations of merit in the choice of the art, then the Directors were absolutely right to halt the show because some of the work, according to the “impact” argument, is unpalatable for consumption within a culture that prioritizes viewers’ emotional safety. But should the argument that is at the base of the “Philip Guston Now” postponement become a precedent, then art museums will be transformed into consciousness-raising platforms where ideological considerations will overtake aesthetics and art history. This path had already been trodden by the infamous 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition mounted in Munich, where the public was “educated” on the art of modernist decay, with the help of derogatory wall texts aimed to reveal the ideological misdeeds of the painters who dared to distort color and human form. That exhibition was built on the premise that modernist art was harmful to the spirit and body of the German people. Its potential harmful impact was to be mitigated with the proper ideological framing of the offending artwork.”