Edward Biberman: On and Off the Wall

August 4, 2014

An unexpected and delightful surprise awaits visitors who venture beyond the monumental David Hockney canvas Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, currently on display in the foyer of LACMA’s galleries of American Art. Another enormous (7 x 15-foot), colorful, and fun painting of a neighborhood in Southern California, Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice, on view in an adjacent gallery until November 16. In this special installation celebrating its recent conservation, the 1941 mural by Edward Biberman hangs high on the wall as it did for many decades above the postmaster’s office in the Venice branch of the United States Postal Service.

Credit line: View of Edward Biberman's Venice Post Office Mural (completed), n.d., National Archives, Washington DC View of Edward Biberman's Venice Post Office Mural (completed), no date, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

At LACMA, it presides over an array of documentary materials from local archives that retell the “story of Venice.” The idea was to bring together historical photographs, postcards, and other ephemera that visually relate to the subject of the mural: the history of Venice, California, from its founding in 1905 by Abbot Kinney through the early 1940s. These wonderful views of the Italianate arcades, bridges spanning canals, sideshow attractions on the boardwalk, thrilling rides along the pier, beachgoers, and more are clustered around three fine art photographs from LACMA’s collection showing the coastal destination in more recent years. Max Yavno’s 1976 shot of a Venetian-style façade with its typical archway presents a grittier episode in the saga of the neighborhood.

Max Yavno, Venice, California, 1978, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Just as the mural’s life continues beyond the confines of the post office, the fascinating history of Venice, California, can’t be contained either, whether it’s within the borders of Biberman’s composition or inside the walls of the gallery. A slideshow, with images of the murals adorning the exterior walls in Venice or a series of photographs capturing a day in the life of Robert Irwin’s installation One Wall Removed at the Malinda Wyatt Gallery in 1980, evokes the cultural legacy in Venice with its rich and vibrant art scene that lives on to this day.

Terry Schoonhoven, St. Charles, Venice Beach, CA 1978. This mural was the last work signed Los Angeles Fine Arts Squad. Photo courtesy of SPARC Archives. (sparcinla.org)

But what about the history of the mural itself? Another section of the show offers a glimpse into the  process of its making and highlights Biberman’s contribution to New Deal public art. In tandem with LACMA, a parallel exhibition currently on view until August 29 at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) explores this compelling aspect of the artist’s work. Curated by Los Angeles muralist and UCLA professor Judy Baca and SPARC’s President Emeritus Armando Durón, Esq., the show Lost Horizons: Mural Dreams of Edward Biberman features an outstanding array of the artist’s mural studies, presented to the public for the first time. Housed in the former Venice police station, the Durón gallery at SPARC provides an apt setting for their in-depth exploration of the social and political issues at the heart of Biberman’s longstanding commitment to muralism. And this is what makes both exhibitions so relevant today as the debate rages on about public art, its (dis)placement and accessibility.

Installation view of "Lost Horizons: Mural Dreams of Edward Biberman," May 2014, photo courtesy of SPARC (sparcinla.org) Installation view of Lost Horizons: Mural Dreams of Edward Biberman, May 2014, photo courtesy of SPARC (sparcinla.org)

Susan Power, Research Assistant, American Art