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The freedom to paint

The Irvine Museum opens new show about how California was open territory for women to succeed as artists.

March 22, 2012|By Imran Vittachi

The museum has owned the mural, which was painted on two large canvases joined together, since the Oaks Hotel donated it as a gift in the early 1990s. The wall that it covered had to be torn down for hotel renovations. In the "Inner Visions" show, the piece's two parts are displayed separately on walls facing one another.

This is the first time that the Irvine Museum is displaying the mural. Before that, it lived for 18 years at the Joan Irvine Smith Hall at UC Irvine. The museum, which is housed in a suite on the ground floor of an office tower, previously was located on the building's 12th floor, but the Botke's mural had to be kept off site because it was too big to fit into the elevators, according to a news release.

During a Wednesday night tour of the show, Jean Stern, the museum's executive director, explained that women had a hard time breaking into careers in the visual arts on the East Coast because the arts scene there was older, more established and male-dominated.


When artists came to Southern California between the 1880s and 1930s, there was no rooted art establishment to speak of. Artists from both of the sexes could make a name for themselves here. Ironically, although male artists tended to have more opportunities for success, compared with their female counterparts, those men who had established reputations for a particular genre or style were confined by their success, leaving women to exploit opportunities in other artistic terrain, Stern pointed out.

"The benefit was they could do want they want[ed], they could paint anything they want[ed] because they weren't at the mercy of the market, or of the art dealers or of the art critics," he said.

"The women are more adventurous, and they're the most daring of the artists in California because they will try new things," Stern added. "They will try modernism … if they like an aspect of Cubism, they will work it into their paintings. If they like aspects of Fauvism, they'll work that in, but they're different than the paintings by men because they tend to be more progressive. They change a lot."

Twitter: @ImranVittachi

If You Go

What: "Inner Visions: Women Artists of California"

Where: The Irvine Museum, 18881 Von Karman Ave., Irvine

When: Through June 7

Hours: Open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Cost: $5 for general admission; No charge for children, students and seniors; Free admission on second Wednesday of the month

More information:

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