If ever there was an exhibit I wish could last forever, it would be the one that brought Oz to El Segundo, California, for the summer of 2019. Just minutes from the Los Angeles International Airport, the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA), installation showcased original Oz illustration between five original Aiseborn and Copyison murals. Digital features completed the plan. I blogged about the June opening, but after seeing it myself, I wanted to follow up with another report.
Local collector Freddy Fogarty, who was instrumental in the development of the exhibit, asked if I had original art I could loan. Sure! I sent reference photos and they asked for my Neill piece of the Wizard’s Workshop from Wonder City of Oz, a page from the 1970s Marvel comic of The Wizard of Oz, and some Skottie Young work from the more recent Marvel graphic novels. A local fine art shipping company packed my pieces and off they went.
I couldn’t make it out right away, but then they scheduled Brady Schwind to talk about the artwork on display in context of his Lost Art of Oz project. It was a quick trip, but worth it.
Right off the bat I realized that the poster for the exhibit was using a detail from a piece I’d loaned! Too fun. The entrance area was dominated by a graffiti wall surrounding a presentation of the Oz books. Many of the notes and illustrations visitors had left behind were charming, and I spotted many friends work on that wall. At the desk, I got my Oz passport stamped.
An advance peek at the murals while the exhibit was being mounted didn’t prepare me for the drama of walking into the space. They were fascinating! One in each of the five Oz colors, they captured imagery from Denslow, the 1903 musical, the film version of The Wiz, and the artist’s own imagination. The Emerald City, which you see from the entrance, was being constantly swept with projected animation that added detail and sparkle.
Then there was Freddy’s Corner. Astonished at Freddy Fogarty’s Oz-packed home, the museum opted to replicate it in the gallery using both photography and collectible material. They brought in cases, shelving to hold pieces, and covered the wall with edge-to-edge Oz. The resulting mix combined Oz books with the Wonderful Game of Oz, Oz peanut spread, foreign Oz material, Return to Oz pieces (Freddy’s rare Heart to Heart plush Tik Tok from Japan was showcased in a spot of its own) posters, all kinds of Oz ephemera… It was just an eye-catching, eclectic outpouring that shared the joy of Oz. Polychrome’s costume from Disney’s 1985 film Return to Oz clothed a mannequin. A selection of books that emphasize Oz illustration were added to a sitting area completing the living-with-Oz presentation.
Digital stations around the room allowed visitors to call up any piece in the exhibit to learn more about it. That feature, called the Grid, was available on their website, too, so I’d already gone through it at home. It was wonderful to see the names of so many collectors I know supporting the exhibit.
After taking endless photos I popped back to my room to change and found the El Segundo tourism magazine waiting for me with a two-page spread about the exhibit. Then I met Freddy and Bill Graff for drinks at a tiki bar before the scheduled presentation.
Brady’s talk was well attended, and in the crowd I found several friends; we posed in front of the Emerald City. Such a treat to see Howard Dorre, who was just a kid when I met him in the 1990s. John Coulter, one of my favorite modern Oz artists, was a wonderful surprise. Robyn and Dana Knutson, and Barbara Boehm from the ESMoA team joined us in a group photo at the Emerald City.
It was both a wonderful exhibit, adventure, and opportunity to celebrate Oz with other fans.