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Historic Laguna Beach Building That Was Once a Millionaire’s Private Art Museum Has Transformed Into a Public Arts Center


Works by Tony Delap will be on view at the Honarkar Foundation's space at 298 Broadway St. in Laguna Beach from March 7 to May 5, 2024. Photo courtesy of HFAC
 

Tucked away on Broadway Street near the waterfront, the old Laguna Beach post office now boasts a state-of-the-art, museum-quality exhibition space that’s open to the public.


Bridging the gap between past and present, the Honarkar Foundation for Arts and Culture (HFAC) opened with an inaugural exhibition from Dec. 1, 2023-Jan. 14, a 20-year retrospective of Jorg Dubin’s work. He’s a prominent contemporary artist and resident of Laguna Beach. The 38-piece show featured a strong history of formal portraiture with politically charged content reflecting the times.


Thursday kicks off the center’s official opening and second exhibition, “Tony DeLap, A Survey of Works: 1960s-2000s.” (It’s the third exhibit if you count works by Laguna Beach artist Gerard Basil that were on view Feb. 10-18.)


The first posthumous survey of the Corona del Mar resident, who passed away in 2019, celebrates over 50 pieces of arguably the most famous artist who lived and worked in Orange County.


A founding faculty member at UC Irvine and its esteemed art department, DeLap’s work resides in the permanent collections of museums such as the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. 


Honarkar Foundation curator Genevieve Williams has organized an austere showcase that highlights DeLap’s key works through the decades, with paintings, sculptures and drawings on loan from Chapman University and private collectors from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.


The former director of Peter Blake Gallery for nearly seven years, Williams hails from Australia, where she was the gallery manager for Sullivan and Strumpf Fine Art and studied art history and theory at the University of Sydney.


The opening follows on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa, and the expansion and reopening last month of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University in Orange.


“There’s a revitalization of art here,” Williams said. “Laguna was always the step-sister of the traditional big art cities.”


HFAC is collaborating with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art for a potential talk on DeLap and his importance in art history books. Other participants may include AAA board member George Merck and curator Anne Valverde, who loaned their DeLap pieces to the show. Additional projects in the works include film screenings, artist talks and an opera performance by the Pacific Vocal Series next month.


HFAC is a member of the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance; Laguna Beach residents have been thrilled to see an art space dedicated to the community.


“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Williams said. “They're thrilled to just be able to step foot in the building and see the space.”


The old post office building at 298 Broadway St. in Laguna Beach is now home to a public gallery run by the Honarkar Foundation for Arts and Culture. Photo courtesy of HFAC

A Special Space

Originally built as a post office in 1938, the 4,200-square-foot building was transformed by local developer Gerald Buck – at significant cost – into his own private art museum. The avid art patron collected over 3,200 works of California artists during his lifetime, and held invite-only showings in the space, where guests were required to wear protective booties.


The exterior of the Mediterranean revival style building features an intricately hand-carved wooden door from Tibet. The modern, muted interior boasts an original bowstring truss ceiling, five climate-controlled exhibition rooms and sliding storage racks.


Since Buck’s passing in 2013, UC Irvine has been entrusted with his collection and the use of the space. Mohammad “Mo” Honarkar, co-founder of the Honarkar Foundation, first visited the building as part of a private tour in 2019. When the building came on the market last year, he jumped at the chance to buy it and share the gorgeous venue with the public.


Works by Tony DeLap exhibited in the Honarkar Foundation building in Laguna Beach. Images courtesy of HFAC

 

“I’m happy to be instrumental in gaining access to this magnificent building,” he said. “Our mission is to showcase Southern California artists and give back to the community.”


The Persian-born UC Irvine graduate has called Laguna Beach home for 45 years. He invested in revitalizing other historical sites in town like the Hotel Laguna. Despite legal battles and community pushback for that project, he remains committed to restoring the rich culture of the city.


“People were saying, ‘Why is Mo buying everything?’” he said. “I thought about it and it’s jealousy. I risk, and they don’t. They could do the same thing.”


HFAC has debuted with prominent artists to establish credibility and a foothold in the art world, according to Williams, and plans to diversify genres and display lesser-known Southern California artists in the future. The foundation is open to artist proposals.


“There’s so few opportunities for visual artists in Orange County,” said Tyler Stallings, writer and former chief curator of Laguna Art Museum. He was also the former director of the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College. “Tony DeLap was beloved in the community and known nationally. Many left after getting their degrees, but DeLap stayed locally; he was an important figure in the contemporary art world.”


Stallings describes DeLap’s style as abstract, cerebral and conceptual, compared to the painterly, figurative aesthetic of Dubin.


Two views of "Mr. Mystic" by Tony DeLap, 1984. Acrylic on canvas, wood, 154 x 75 x 4 inches, on loan from the Escalette Collection of Art at Chapman University. Images courtesy of HFAC

 

DeLap’s “Mr. Mystic” (1984), a 13-foot, 3D painting of acrylic on canvas with curved beechwood accents, is simple and monochromatic at first glance, but a closer study reveals baffling curves and shadows and a complex process.


“Tony DeLap was also a magician; he brought that playfulness into his paintings,” Williams said.


A master of melding painting and sculpture, his fascination for boxes and geometry led to a series of pieces featured at the Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco in 1964. “Pro (Double Sided, 1965)” in this exhibit is slightly larger than “The Pro” from the Dilexi show. A matte dark blue box turned diagonally features twin ridged circles inscribed in a rectangle and receding into a center filled with glass and covered with a dot.


Two views of "Pro (Double-Sided)" by Tony DeLap, circa 1965. Mixed Media Assemblage, 36 x 35.5 x 2.5 inches, from a private collection, Los Angeles. On the right is the cover form the original show at the Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco. Images courtesy of HFAC

 

Some of the works from the DeLap exhibit will be for sale, which puts the Honarkar Foundation in a bit of a gray area when it comes to nonprofit arts organizations. Williams said a percentage of sales would help defray the foundation’s programming and exhibition costs.


The last major retrospective of DeLap’s work was at Laguna Art Museum in 2018, an exhibit that Peter Blake of his eponymous gallery called “overhung.” Free of the scholarly constraints of museums, the upcoming showcase illuminates the artist's pared-down essence.


“It still hasn't all been said yet,” Blake said. “(This) show reflects a minimal, sensual nature … it’s the way Tony would’ve wanted it.”

 

‘Tony DeLap, A Survey of Works: 1960s-2000s’

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, March 7 to May 5.

Opening reception and ribbon cutting: 5-9 p.m. Thursday, March 7 (ribbon cutting at 5:30 p.m.)

WHERE: The Honarkar Foundation for Arts and Culture, 298 Broadway St., Laguna Beach 

COST: Free. Some works are for sale.

CONTACT: thehonarkarfoundation.org


Future Plans at the Honarkar Foundation

From May 18 to July 13, the Honarkar Foundation for Arts and Culture will feature Los Angeles artist Joe Goode, who made a name for himself through cloud imagery and milk bottle paintings in the Pop Art movement.


In September, HFAC will also unveil a California Light and Space show which coincides with Pacific Standard Time, the $17 million Getty Museum initiative geared toward art and science.


The Laguna Beach nonprofit is also organizing an event with Pacific Symphony later this year, as well as potentially offering an internship program with the Laguna College of Art and Design. 



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