The Surreal Fine-Art Spectacle in Laguna Beach

by Chris Dixon

PageanMasters

Jeff Minton for the New York Times. 

Editor’s Note.
This week’s
New York Times Magazine holds a brilliant feature on one of the most mind-bending art spectacles you’ll ever see. The Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, California. Of course, I’m biased. My mother in law, Lucia McLeod, has been running the box office for this venerable, eight-decade long gallery of ‘living pictures’ for around 22 years and I’ve seen the show, and the behind the scenes in all its glory many times. But what makes Sam Anderson’s story so damned compelling is that he gives not only the Pageant its just due as fine art in itself, but he looks on my former home of Laguna Beach with an art critic’s eye. The result is a masterful blend of writing and spellbinding visual storytelling. Just read the salty below passage for proof. –CD

Laguna Beach looks fake. Look at it. Walk down the sidewalks. You’ll pass alien plants — flowers that look like sea creatures, bushes growing artichokes that are not actually artichokes, smooth twisted fairy-tale trees. You’ll pass sudden implausible outbreaks of scenically craggy rock. You’ll pass beach bungalows of eccentric design. Shingles, shingles. Way at the top of the hills, glass mansions cluster like barnacles, luxury barnacles, filtering ineffably expensive nutrients out of the air. It’s all implausible, the entire town. The ocean at Laguna Beach doesn’t even try to look realistic: It’s 300 percent too beautiful — it looks like a screen saver, as if any second now, someone is going to hit a key or nudge the mouse, and the whole thing will disappear. Blatant fakery.

Walk around. Look. The Hare Krishna temple has palm trees in front of it. The tide pools seem professionally stocked: crabs in every crevice. A beachfront bicycle cop writes up a ticket for a man sleeping on a bench (“Do not get up: You’ll go to jail. Date of birth?”), while on the very next bench, a jogger lost in earbud music does focused triceps dips. I passed people so painfully tan they seemed to have been sewn together out of leather wallets. Two of the tide pool’s small crabs were fighting over the severed claw of a larger crab. Pure fakery. Mass hallucination. In the winter you can watch the whales leap. And yet people go on living there as if it’s all real.

Read More at The New York Times.

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