Volume 15, Issue 76  |  September 22, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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LAM presents Art People: The Pageant Portraits by Matthew Rolston, through September 19


There couldn’t be a more fitting exhibition to celebrate the opening of the Pageant of the Masters – and the city’s reemergence – than Art People: The Pageant Portraits by acclaimed photographer Matthew Rolston.

At the Laguna Art Museum (LAM) special preview on Saturday evening, Rolston discussed his exhibit, “Art people is a name often applied to members of the contemporary art world of collectors, artists, curators, and of course, the gallerists. But these are actual members of the community dressed as art. These are a different kind of ‘art people.’”

LAM presents gold

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Courtesy of LAM

Barye, Roger, and Angelica (Angelica)

With this collection, LAM presents the first institutional solo exhibition by Rolston on the West Coast. The exhibition, which consists of 18 monumental, high-resolution photographic works, some presented as multi-panel installations, takes as its subject the participants of an annual arts event in Laguna. This context connects two of the most beloved cultural institutions of Laguna, a city originally founded as an arts colony in the early 20th century, while celebrating the broader history of art and photography that defines the cultural heritage of California.

No doubt everyone is already aware that the Pageant of the Masters is known for its elaborate tableau vivant presentations. This is a rare perspective that takes the viewer from the original art piece to human replication to photograph, offering a vision of the multi-layered transformation.

LAM presents Last Supper

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Courtesy of LAM

Da Vinci, The Last Supper, with “makeup templates”

In a video tape explaining this exhibition and his process, Rolston says, “The illusion of the show is perfect subject matter. It addresses the question of why we make art.”

This group of photographs furthers Rolston’s investigations into the nature of portraiture and the methods by which society and the human condition are mediated through artwork and art creation. 

Rolston became increasingly interested in the Pageant of the Masters and the close-up perspective afforded through binoculars. Subsequently, he was granted rare access to photograph and produce a body of original artwork based on portraits of the volunteer cast members of the Pageant.

In their Pageant costumes and makeup, dressed as figures taken from works by Da Vinci, Fragonard, Frishmuth, Matisse, Rivera, Hockney, and many more, in 2016, these performers posed for their portraits away from the painted sets and stage lighting of the Pageant.

LAM presents Eve

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Courtesy of LAM

Ruebens, Brueghel the Elder, The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (Eve) 

Setting up a make-shift studio backstage at the Pageant, over a few weeks, Rolston photographed the cast members 10 at a time during intermission and at the conclusion of the Pageant. Since there are two alternating casts – the red cast and the blue cast – he ended up shooting over 150 people. Then he narrowed it down.

Rendered in archival pigments on cotton rag paper, these oversized prints are presented as individual portraits, diptychs, and elaborate groupings of participants juxtaposed against images of the Pageant’s “makeup templates” – which are used to model the performers’ final appearance. 

The “makeup templates” are designed based on the each painting’s brush strokes depicted on Styrofoam heads that are painted over every year.

“It’s been a long journey,” says Ralston. “I had this idea seven years ago, and it should have opened last year, but I had to put it on ice. We transformed the space, put walls up, and painted them.”

LAM presents trio

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Courtesy of LAM

Canova, Tomb of the Archduchess Maria Christina (#1) 

LAM Executive Director Julie Perlin Lee, who has only been on the job seven weeks, said, “There are many layers of celebration tonight. I’m excited to welcome everyone back into the museum.”

Speaking to the delay in opening due to the pandemic Lee said, “It gave us more time and attention to what the exhibit could be. I don’t think this space has ever looked so elegant.”

David Fahey of the Fahey/Klein Gallery, one of the leading photography galleries in the West, has known Rolston for most of his career: “He’s so prepared, so meticulous, and that’s the kind of discipline an artist needs.”

Rolston, artist, photographer, and video director (born 1955), was “discovered” by Andy Warhol while a student at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. His images of celebrities for Warhol’s Interview magazine, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and other publications won him acclaim as an heir to the tradition of Hollywood glamour photography. 

LAM presents Sancha

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Courtesy of LAM

Valera, Don Quixote and Sancha Panza (Panza)

Accompanying Laguna Art Museum’s exhibition of Rolston’s Art People is a lavishly illustrated museum catalogue with essays by cultural critic and journalist Christina Binkley, Pageant of the Masters scriptwriter Dan Duling, and classical scholar Nigel Spivey, alongside carefully selected images from art history that contextualize the work in the exhibition. Designed by Laguna Art Museum in collaboration with Rolston, the catalogue will be offered in two versions: a luxurious trade edition as well as a deluxe, limited, and numbered collector’s edition featuring a signed print by the artist enclosed in a folio. 

LAM is located at 307 Cliff Dr.

For more information on the exhibit, go to www.lagunaartmuseum.org or call (949) 494-8971.


Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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