Raymond G. Starr, Book Review Editor
By D. Scott Atkinson, Jennifer Luksic, and Sara E Bush. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego History Center, 1999. Color plates, timeline, checklist of paintings, 108 Pages. $16.95 Softcover.
Picturing Paradise is the catalog for the San Diego Museum of Art’s exhibit, “Picturing Paradise: San Diego in the Eye of the Artist, 1875-1940,” and the San Diego Historical Society’s companion show, “Picturing Paradise: Marketing San Diego, 1875-1940.” These important exhibits were generated by and in reaction to a major exhibit organized by Stanford University, “Pacific Arcadia: Images of California, 1600-1915.” While a stunning exhibition, many thought that show did not address the art and artists of Southern California, or the peculiar role both played in shaping that region. Thus the two San Diego institutions created two local exhibits to supplement the Stanford show. Together they made their point, that there was much going on in the art world in Southern California, and thus validated the criticisms of “Pacific Arcadia.”
This catalog provides a checklist of the items exhibited in both local shows, plus forty-eight small but beautiful plates. In addition there are three essays designed to enhance the viewers’ understanding of the region and the period. The first article reviews the promotion and development of San Diego from Alonzo Horton to the 1940s and serves as context for the San Diego History Center’s show.
It is clearly presented, although it suffers from inadequate attention to the use of Hispanic images in promotion during those years. That subject is covered a little in the second article, “A Mediterranean Encounter,” but mostly that article describes the paintings and some of the painters of the era. This information will be a useful reference for future use. The final articles is on La Jolla and argues that it represented the epitome of the California dream, and that it heavily supported the art and architectural trends of the times. It caters to a very elite view of San Diego art and life and probably exaggerates the role of La Jolla in the art and architectural experience of San Diego, 1875-1940. Local friends of art will find this book interesting to read now, and a useful book for future reference on individual artists or local paintings. It will also be a permanent reminder of the successful effort of San Diego’ major historical society and art gallery to expand the California art world’s view beyond the San Francisco Bay and the Sierras!