The Struggle for Survival Part II (1990-1999)

     In the February 1990 newsletter the Guild announced a self-juried show to be held at the East County Performing Arts Center from March 2 - March 30, 1990.

     Robert L. Pincus wrote another review of a Guild show for the San Diego Union March 11, 1990:

Museum should artfully bow out of Juried Exhibition    

     "Today the latest version of the annual Artists Guild Juried Exhibition closes at the San Diego Museum of Art. And it seems like precisely the right moment to make a sensible proposal - that in years to come the museum devote the time and space used for this exhibition to a higher-caliber show of contemporary art.
     I say this knowing full well my idea will be resisted, perhaps fiercely. The museum's association with the Artist Guild is long and the attachment runs deep. The record-keeping has not been precise, but these annual shows have been held regularly since the late 1940's, and with some irregularity, they have appeared since 1926, when the San Diego Museum of art - then the Fine Arts Gallery - was inaugurated. (For several years, beginning in 1926, the museum shared space with The Artists Guild, then called The Art Guild.)
     Moreover, the Artists Guild is older still. It was established 75 years ago…. In its early years, some of the more important artists in the city's history served as its presidents, including painters Maurice Braun and Alfred Mitchell. When both the city and the art world here was more provincial, the Artists Guild surely was representative in a way it is not today.
     Delve into the history of many a major museum in the United States and you will discover that it once hosted a similar show. But that association ended when the museum - and the city - reached a particular moment in its development.
     That moment never seemed to arrive for the San Diego Museum of Art. Actually, force of habit has over-ridden sound judgment. In 1990, it is clear that the innovation for which I am arguing is long overdue.
     Juried shows have their place. Indeed, I have acted as juror on several during the past decade…. And I have done so because artists, particularly unknown and emerging ones, sometimes gain valuable exposure.
     But the place for such an exhibition is not at a museum, particularly one that devotes precious little time and funds to exhibiting contemporary art. On those few occasions when recent or current work appears in a museum, it should be work of a high order. It should be presented in the form of a curated show….
     So the museum should now seize the moment. Why not use that time and space devoted to the Artists Guild Juried Exhibition to a modest solo exhibition for a worthy local artist, or perhaps a theme show that features several. There simply is no excuse not to at this juncture; the curators who can make this possible are in place….
     Year after year, the Artists Guild Juried Exhibition has been a highly uneven grouping of work, and many of our best local artists choose not to enter. This year's version is no exception. It has a few intriguing selections….
     But aside form these and a few other examples, this show, like past versions of the Artists Guild Juried Exhibition, is not the quality we have a right to expect from a museum exhibition. The local audience deserves better. The strength of art being made in San Diego warrants such a change.
     The Artists Guild can surely find another venue for its annual juried affair. And the museum can make a decision, however difficult, to improve the quality of its programming."

     John McKee Jr. wrote this note to the Editor of the San Diego Evening Tribune on March 19, 1990. It was published in the May 1990 Newsletter:
     "I am writing in regard to the article by Robert Pincus printed on March 11, 1990. In the article, Mr. Pincus suggests the discontinuation of the San Diego Museum of Art's Guild show. First: because he thought the show contained works by artists not warranting the quality of a museum exhibition. Second: some artists worthy of showing chose not to show. Third: this effort could better be given to showing the work of a worthy local artist.
     The issues supporting one argument or the other are as complex as the world of art actually turns out to be. They involve the vagueness of public versus elitist connoisseurship; the need to show accepted contemporary works since too few can be shown. The answers are also complex. The San Diego Museum of Art is not designed for the exhibition of contemporary art, that assigned duty is for the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.
     We are fortunate to have a man of Mr. Pincus's ability. He is very articulate about art and the issues as they have been defined. He did a very fine job of judging the recent mid-winter award show at the San Diego Art Institute. However, it is apparent from the result of the judging of all shows of this type that they represent the particular bias of that judge. This show exhibited a predominant interest in modernism and art as idea.
     Judges should not agree on their approach to art. Instead, in these eclectic times, it is difficult to recognize any innovation in art as related to the making. It can only be addressed as it relates to the issue of our times. It would seem appropriate for Mr. Pincus to encourage a better participation of the artists who choose not to exhibit in the Guild show than to disband an organization which represented the very heart of the San Diego art community. In spite of his excellence in reporting, Mr. Pincus should look more to the issues as they relate to the strengthening of the artistic community of San Diego, particularly when it involves an organization so closely related to the origins of the San Diego Museum of Art itself."

     On March 14, 1990 Jean Swiggett wrote this letter to Joseph Hibben, President of the SDMA.
     "A few moments ago I re-read the inadequate review by Robert Pincus in last Sunday's San Diego Tribune. The timing was deliberately calculated to be an insult appearing as it did on the last day of a seven-week schedule--not only to the Artist's Guild but to the Museum as well.
     I am opposed to Pincus' suggestion that the historical Artists Guild Annual be eliminated and that a series of one-man or small group shows of unknown or little known artists be substituted. I am opposed because of the many local artists of merit who have not been given that honor over the years, but also because of my opposition to any proposal made by Pincus. I have no respect for his aesthetic appreciation and taste nor for some of his practices which I find unethical if not illegal…
     Pincus has made previous snide remarks in print concerning the management of the Museum. Adopting any of his ideas could be considered as deferring to his judgment and giving him an importance he doesn't warrant.
     I sincerely hope the Board will not consider this proposal.
     I write to you as a member of the San Diego Museum of Art since 1946 and as an artist exhibiting nationally for well over fifty years."

     The following was recorded in the March 16, 1990 minutes:
     "COVA: Jennifer Spencer spoke about COVA membership - the AG has never paid dues in the past. Is there some way that members could pay dues???? They are one dollar per member up to a cap of $250.00. The guild cannot join as a group because we are a committee of the museum and in the past the museum has not approved of this."

     Another letter was written by John McKee Jr., this time to the Editor of the San Diego Union on April 1, 1990.
     "…I said that all judges of art shows have bias for their own particular view. I implied that Mr. Pincus had one as well. His bias as seen in his judging of the Art Institute show was for Modernism and Art as an idea.
     My point is that Mr. Pincus has a view. It is not the only view and should be considered as such, no more."

     Jean Swiggett wrote this follow up letter to Helen Copley, owner of the San Diego Union on April 3, 1990:
     "I am writing about the column by Robert Pincus in the Union, March 11. He suggests that the Artists Guild Annual, customarily shown at the San Diego Museum of Art be eliminated…
     Pincus feels the artists Guild Annual can be presented in many other places, but as the Guild was the original group upon which the Museum Association was founded…
     In judging the Art Institute Mid-Winter Annual recently, Pincus is reported to have started the jurying by automatically rejecting all paintings of a realistic nature… Artists paid a $15 fee for each entry. To have his work summarily rejected without giving it adequate attention and because of style, not quality, seems unethical….
     His diatribe of two years ago concerning my one-man retrospective at San Diego State, I think, was supposed to put me (and others painting in a realistic style) in our places….
     If you sincerely care about art in San Diego (that is all forms of art, not limited to a self-important critic's prejudices), you will see Pincus for what he is--a 'menace.'
     Get rid of him!"

     The following is the President's Message by Betty Riis as it appeared in the June 1990 newsletter:
     "This year, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Artists Guild has been very special for me, your chairperson. We have looked back into the history of the guild and re-examined our 'roots'. In doing so, we gained a better understanding of our position within the museum and we have created a harmonious atmosphere in which our organization can go forth and accomplish bigger and better things. It has been a joy for me to work and become friends with the museum staff and to know our guild members better. They have ceased to be just a name on a piece of paper, they have become friends."

     Here is an excerpt from the August 1990 newsletter's President's Message by Edwin Wordell
     "Good news! The Guild has arranged for Helen and Newton Harrison the University of California at San Diego's internationally recognized environmental artists, to jury an all member exhibition at the Lyceum Theater Lobby Gallery. The exhibit will open September 20, 1990 and run almost six weeks to October 30, 1990. During this period of time it is estimated by the theater's management that between 20,000 and 25,000 patrons will visit the theater complex and view this exhibit."

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