Long Beach Museum of Art to Host Masterworks Conversation Saturday • Long Beach Post


The Long Beach Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Masterworks, is closing on Sunday, February 1st. This Saturday at 3 PM the museum is hosting a panel discussion featuring co-curators Jeff McMillan and Nathan Spoor, half of the 14 featured artists, with moderation by LBMA Executive Director Ron Nelson.

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Under Nelson’s leadership, the Long Beach Museum of Art has created a stellar run of top notch exhibitions. In addition to shows developed by their own curatorial staff, they’ve reached out to leaders in the arts to broaden the scope of the institution’s efforts. Masterworks is a perfect example.

In 2011, Nathan Spoor and Jeff McMillan approached Nelson about curating a show for LBMA. Shortly after that initial conversation Nelson attended Suggestivism, a group show curated by Nathan Spoor at Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. It featured more than 50 contemporary artists. It was, according to Spoor, a ‘proof of concept’ for Nelson, and he gave McMillan and Spoor the green light to create a show for LBMA.

“What was great about Suggestivism,” McMillan said, “was that, up to that point, there wasn’t a show of that magnitude featuring hard hitting artists all together, showing at one space. You had to see it several times to take it all in.”


Nathan Spoor. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Suggestivism is a concept that I’d been developing since grad school,” Spoor explained. “At a conceptual level, suggestivism is ‘the ability of an individual to pursue their purpose with an amplified understanding and sensitivity.’ It uses the word ‘suggest’ as its root to imply, ‘through the mere power of suggestion, the magic is transferred from one to another, engaging the world at large from the most vivid and evocative of visual realms.’

“For me,” Spoor said, “it’s a life-long study of a vibrant and current form of storytelling, a narrative being woven by living artists that was first pointed out by noted art historian and critic Sadakichi Hartmann. I found out that he had written about it in the 1890’s while researching the writing for the first Suggestivism book. We’re on the 6th show now and I’m preparing new text for the next book.”

The curatorial vision for Masterworks was quite bold. In the book created for the show it is explained in a series of questions:

  • Are the artists challenging themselves each time they approach making new work?
  • Are the artists creating their own new way of communicating ideas?
  • Does the artist explore technique to develop a personal style and eloquence?
  • Is the artist concerned with masterful painting technique?
  • Does the artist create a strong narrative in each piece that survives as a voice in several consecutive or grouped works?
  • Is the artist actively searching and testing new ways to engage viewers as well as to entertain and challenge?
  • Does the artist build on the past but not repeat it and is the artist adding to the narrative?
  • Is the artist constantly learning and evolving?
  • Has the artist dedicated him or herself to all of the above for a decade or more?

“What Ron was drawn to from the Masterworks concept,” McMillan surmised, “was that there were going to be current artists that had been doing their work for 10 years or more, and were being asked to produce one large piece that spoke about where they’d been and where they were going. We wanted pivotal pieces in these artists’ careers.”

“Throughout its history the Long Beach Museum of Art has always shown contemporary art,” Ron Nelson explained. “It became apparent to me that there was a body of extremely skilled painters diligently working in studios across the country, and there were very few museums showing their work. This exhibition was an opportunity to showcase a curated group that committed, and had the fortitude, to create a work that could stand as a statement of who they were in 2014/15, and create a painting that they themselves could call a masterwork.”

Jeff McMillan

Jeff McMillan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We wanted a very diverse show,” McMillan continued. “All the artists involved came from different backgrounds, studies, and disciplines. No two artists were alike, which made it interesting.”

Although the works are all quite unique, there seems to be a cohesiveness amongst the exhibited pieces.

“This comes from working with artists that are committed to the new contemporary artistic vein of narrative or storytelling visuals,” Spoor said. “While offering a selection of artists creating work that is deep in inspiration, we see a range of contemporary artists who deliberately invoke the narrative tradition-works drawn from life, history, mythology- while undermining it at the same time.”

In addition to curating the show, both Spoor and McMillan created their own masterworks for it.

“It was a challenge for me,” McMillan confessed. “My piece was the largest painting I’ve done up to this point. My piece was centered around a sport I created called Prigus.”

Rabun Gap Tigers 1998 Championship team

Rabun Gap Tigers 1998 Championship team. Painting by Jeff McMillan.

According to the Prigus website, the team sport has its origins in Georgia. Teams are made of 18 players and one dog, and they move up and down a field in an effort to knock down the opposing team’s pins. McMillan’s painting depicts the Rabun Gap Tigers, a Prigus team hailing from the birthplace of the sport.

“It’s a sport that I’ve been working on for a good 2 plus years,” he said. “I’ve built this concept from the ground up. Everything from the field, playbook, mascots, teams, uniforms etc. It’s everything that I love about sports.

“I’d like to work on this as long as I can,” McMillan admitted. “This is the first project in a long time that I really see no end to. There’s so many angles to it that I can explore. It’s exciting stuff. There’s no end in sight.”

Spoor’s painting, titled ‘The Elegant Charade,’ required all of the 3 year curatorial time-frame to complete.

Nathan Spoor - The ElegantCharade

The Elegant Charade. Painting by Nathan Spoor.

“This painting culminates a generous portion of the narrative that my ongoing series of paintings has introduced over the last decade – as a kind of transition from childhood to young adulthood is happening in the series. The painting depicts a congregation of characters-both familiar and new-gathered in a three-ring circus atmosphere to celebrate a new step in the evolution of the youthful protagonist, seen lower right in the forefront ring. It shows the progression of the narrative that the series has built over the last 12 years as well as gives a strong nod to the next steps in the series – a bridge if you will.

“In each painting on my easel, I employ the most masterful attempts and techniques that the work requires of me to create a playful invitation to a complex and inspired realm. The road to mastery is long and tedious, just as a life as an artist. And I couldn’t tell you when or if I’ll ever know the satisfaction of calling myself such, but I do strive for it every day.

“My intention in creating work is a personal need, not only to create but to share and complete a circuit between the universe, myself, the work, and the viewer. As such, the viewer as I do the painting, is a friend. And as such, each must feel satisfied, engaged, inspired, respected and adored. My paintings are invitations to travel through a rectangular viewing window, wherein the active flow of the visual allows the viewer ample room to engage as well as rest the eye.

“The show’s criteria does ask for a milestone work, and I do see this piece as a sort of milestone. This painting functions as a bridge from one part of the series’ narrative into a new area. We can see the fun, youthful energy in effect throughout the painting as well as some new additions. These new elements are physical anomalies at present, but represent some of the new directions in future works.

“Two examples of this are the melty-blob characters and the cut-away views of underground rooms and multiple layers of previously unseen places. The characters that seem to be blobs or melting represent characters or ideas that are evolving, changing into new forms or being transformed by ideas that are challenging their molecular nature and thereby changing them physically. The cutaway areas represent new concepts in upcoming works that deal with the nature of our multi-layered humanity and the mind’s ability to travel dimensionally.”

The show, according to Spoor, has been a huge success. It has set attendance records for the museum, and the show’s catalogue has sold out.

“I’m currently working with a French publisher in Paris,” Nelson said, “that intends to print the catalogue in French for an international audience.”

“Ron wants to produce shows that are relevant,” Spoor observed. “Shows that speak to the current trends as well as the narrative of art that is happening within the art world. We, as artists, need institutions that are passionate and encouraging of new content. We all need to have places that raise the level of awareness of quality work as well as relevant cultural developments in visual arts.

“The museum’s role is the catalyst, the place or proving ground where we find out how well the concept plays in the real world. The museum is also the upscaling proponent in the equation, the transformative factor that proves, on some level, that the cultural importance is either occurring or is on the cusp of becoming a broader reality.”

“That’s what a museum provides to the city it resides in, too,” McMillan mused. “Long Beach has a huge artist population. It is great for the city and the people who can enjoy it. I’m hoping that this show has done that, we really wanted to produce a show that hasn’t happened yet.”

“It also speaks to the curiosity of the public,” said Spoor, “whether they are willing to come out of their homes and living spaces of comfort to see something that may or may not spark some inspirational or conversational element within them. And hopefully that spark carries on and becomes something new and amazing, in a new way, within the world.

“This is a first in art history for a couple of reasons. It’s the first attempt at engaging the public in the ‘Masterworks’ topic with this new contemporary group of artists. The first engagement in talking about ‘new contemporary narrative’ for that matter. Trust me, I did a whole year of research to find other work to read and credit, but it just wasn’t out there.

“So, for the public, it’s a once in a lifetime chance to see this grouping of art and artists,” Spoor said, “as well as possibly engage in personal chats with half of them in person at the panel and closing event.”

The Long Beach Museum of Art exhibition, Small Treasures, will continue through May 31st. It features a variety of ceramic, glass, metal and wood objects, including a necklace by Frank E. Cummings. On February 19th, the museum will present three new exhibitions: A Memoir of Water: Works by Young- Il Ahn, the Milton Wichner Collection, and Presence and Absence: Black and White. More information about these and other exhibitions is available at LBMA.org.

Learn more about Nathan’s artwork and curatorial efforts at NathanSpoor.com.

Learn more about Jeff’s artwork at JeffMcMillan.com.

Check out Asia Morris’ preview of Masterworks.

Read an interview with Jeff from 2012.

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