Alpert @ Sunnylands

Nestled into the heart of Coachella Valley,i just off yet another nondescript highway stretching into infinity, lies Sunnylands, formerly the Walter and Leonore Annenberg estate.ii There, in a recently constructed visitor centre, is a seriously fine collection of Herb Alpert paintings and sculptures. Here are the highlights (starting after this late-day shot of the front Sunnylands visitor entrance) :

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Defining the gardens at rear, from right to left are currently exhibited three totem-pole-inspired sculptures entitled “Charity” (2017), “Gratitude” (2009), and “Warrior” (2011). Alpert, a jazz trumpeter, painter, and sculptor, was commissioned to create these pieces in conversation with the Hunt family of sculptors from the Kwakiutl nation in British Columbia, Canada.iii The complete exhibition is entitled Reach for the Sky: Tradition + Inspiration.

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Inside, Alpert’s working models are on display. Like Rodin and Koons, Alpert’s 84-year-old hands shape the models and the hands of his team complete the 20′-tall bronzes.

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In addition to sculpture, there are several stunning paintings inside. This is “Dancing Mountain” (1988-2001), which features the following quote on the placard : “If a work doesn’t buzz you, it’s not for you. No one can make you react to a painting. People get a little too intellectual about it.” Ahem, guilty as charged.

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This is “Birdland” (1986-2001), which features the following quote on the placard : “Traveling around the globe with my band and going to museums, I as always interested in the modern art section. So I bought some paints and started moving them around like a monkey, or an elephant with a brush in its trunk. It wasn’t great, but I was having a lot of fun doing it. I just kept at it because it was something that was feeding me.”

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This is “Intersection” (1993), which features the following quote on the placard : “I’m a right-brain guy. I paint, I sculpt, I play trumpet, and I have a good time doing all three.”

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This is “Midnight Moon” (1988), my favourite of Alpert’s paintings, and which features the following quote on the placard : “I think that all art is a mystery. If you like a piece of work — if you like a sculpture, or you like a painting, or you like an actor, or a dance, or anything else — you can’t really put your finger on that element that touches you.”

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Then there were the incredible wooden sculptures of the Hunt family : grandfather Henry Hunt, his son Stanley, and grandson Jason. Henry’s 30′-tall totem poll was installed on the Annenberg estate in 1976 as a landmark on the 9-hole golf course surrounding the primary residence on the 200-acre property. Seen herebelow are the stunning, dramatic raven masks of Stanley and Jason.

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In case you didn’t also know, Sunnylands is sometimes referred to as “Camp David of the West” because of its history hosting international meetings between heads of state. In June 2013, Bahamas sat on this exact bench with Xi Jinping at the “shirtsleeves summit.” You see, people sit on the right, spooks ghosts on the left.iv

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The Alpert exhibition continues until June 7, 2020.
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  1. Has it only been three years since The Great Again kicked off ? Feels like longer!
  2. Mr. Annenberg sold his broadcast and media company, which included cultural cornerstone such as “TV Guide,” to Rupert Murdoch for $3.2 bn in 1988, a sum that’s probably somewhere between $20 bn and infinity bn in 2020 buckaroos. Talk about timing!
  3. The Vancouver-area influence is strong, you see!
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