Artistically vulnerable: Vanguard owners pull controversial art collection

Artist Maren Conrad

Local artist Maren Conrad spent six weeks creating a collection of paintings titled “Politically Vulnerable” that depicts ten wives, girlfriends and lovers of California governors, both past and present – but you won’t see it hanging from the walls of the Vanguard bar when it opens downtown this weekend, as was originally planned.

“Art is supposed to provoke conversation,” Conrad said in response to the bar owners pulling her collection after complaints. “That’s why we as artists create. It’s so unfeminist to say these powerful, courageous women don’t get to be put on that wall, and I’m not surprised that men are cowering away from this issue.”  

The players

On June 7 while Conrad was getting her artwork settled in at what she thought would be its new home, Donne Brownsey, a lobbyist with the firm Sacramento Advocates, Inc., read a brief in the Capitol Morning Report, a daily government newsletter, on the upcoming opening of Vanguard that drew her attention. It read:

…Along with the outdoor patio, the elegant decor includes a crystal chandelier above the bar, shelves filled with vintage books, and works created by Sacramento artist Maren Conrad with the theme, “lovers, mistresses, and muses of California governors” that includes artsy portraits of former CA first ladies Maria Shriever (sic) and Nancy Reagan, along with singer Linda Ronstadt, a former girlfriend of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The description didn’t sit right with Brownsey, and she sent an email expressing her concerns to the venue’s marketing and public relations manager, Natalie Paulsen. Paulsen then forwarded the email to Conrad and Vanguard co-owner and operator Trevor Shults.

“This is no comment on the artist and her work,” Brownsey told the Sacramento Press, “I just think it was an unfortunate choice of a theme. I think it’s obvious – when you read something describing a new commercial establishment like a new club, that has a theme like mistresses, lovers and muses of California governors.”

Though on Wednesday, June 5 Shults called Conrad’s collection a “perfect fit” for Vanguard, he confirmed the following Monday, June 10 that he had decided that Conrad’s collection would no longer call the venue home.  

A glance at “Politically Vulnerable”

“We decided to go a different direction with the artwork,” he said. “We’re still going with Maren, but she’s going to come up with a different theme and different pieces. It is beautiful artwork and she’s going to come up with something that will better suit the space.”

He admitted that the decision was the result of one complaint, saying, “We’re not trying to make a political statement – we just want beautiful artwork and by no means want it to be offensive to anyone.”

Callista Wengler, Marketing Director for Paragary Restaurant Group, declined to comment on Conrad’s artwork on the grounds that Vanguard is not part of Paragary Restaurant Group (Shults collaborated with Paragary Restaurant Group on their new concert venue, Assembly – Paragary also owns Hock Farm, located next door to Vanguard, and used to own Spataro Restaurant & Bar, which Hock Farm and Vanguard replaced). However, Brownsey told the Sacramento Press that Randy Paragary addressed her concerns about the collection with her directly before it was pulled.

“Randy Paragary was very responsive to my concerns,” she said, “and I was very pleased with his response.”

Conrad now finds herself with a collection of artwork based on a feminist theme that is itself the crux of a feminist debate.

“These women were all involved in politics, and they showed power through vulnerability,” she said in defense of her work. “It’s not an incorrect statement that they were lovers, mistresses and muses – because they were. But that’s not the statement I was making. Governors’ lovers, mistresses and muses is about possession, and that’s not the message I was sending.” 

“Politically Vulnerable” – unpacked

The collection itself is made up of twelve portraits of ten women, all of whom are former wives, girlfriends and mistresses of California governors. Conrad spent two weeks researching online and at local libraries in search of stories about women who were both powerful and vulnerable, who would not have their voices silenced by any man, regardless of how politically powerful he may have been.

Conrad’s artist statement for the project reads: 

Behind the scenes of politics, where “great men” rise to power by carefully protecting themselves from the vulnerabilities of their personal identities and histories, these ten women–wives, girlfriends, and mistresses of California governors–reveal their personal power by revealing their stories. Taken together, they represent the strength of baring one’s identity, telling one’s history, and facing one’s vulnerabilities…

Included in the collection is Governor Jerry Brown’s former flame Linda Ronstadt, who Conrad included because Ronstadt would not conform to the stereotypical first lady persona in order to accompany Brown on what many felt at that time was his journey to the White House, preferring instead to pursue her own career, becoming an icon in her own right.

Conrad with her collection, prior to the decision to pull it from Vanguard

Piper Laurie, also depicted, is a former actress who was 18-years-old when she met co-star Ronald Reagan on the set of “Louisa.” In her memoir, Laurie claimed she lost her virginity to Reagan, whom she said then proceeded to tell her, “There’s something wrong with you. You should have had many orgasms by now – after all this time. You’ve got to see a doctor.” Laurie went on to receive three Oscar nominations and outed the former president for his alleged ungentlemanly behavior in her autobiography "Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir.”

Former California first lady Virginia Knight was included for her accomplishments as both a poet and advocate for veterans. She also spearheaded the move to turn the governor’s mansion into a museum honoring California’s first ladies, researching the stories behind and collecting photographs of the women who came before her to be mounted in the front hall.

Nancy Reagan and Maria Shriver are also part of the collection – Reagan for her ability to stand out as an activist in her own right while being married to one of the most revered presidents in recent history (she received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom during her time in the White House), and Shriver for her work as an award-winning journalist and her instrumental role in creating the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.

There’s no word yet on what a new installation might look like, and Conrad is still reeling from what she feels is a misinterpretation of her collection’s message. Prior to the fallout caused by Brownsey’s email, Conrad described her artwork’s theme as “highly feminist.”

“(These women) owned their stories.” she said. “and the fact that so many of these men wanted to keep them hidden I think is very interesting. They were like, ‘no, I will not sit down. I will not shut up…You can’t take this experience away from me and call it purely your experience.’”  

The artist behind the portraits

Conrad, a single mother who credits local artists Jane Mikacich and Kim Squaglia for aiding her on her own artistic journey, wasn’t always creating collections for high profile establishments. Three and a half years ago she was teaching art at her youth camp and raising her son, now almost nine. When Mikacich asked Conrad at a book club meeting – where they had recently met – how her own art was coming along, she found she didn’t have much to say.

“I was raising him and doing the mom thing, and I realized I had gotten really far away from my own creative process.”

Soon after Conrad began painting again, Mikacich having gifted a spot in her own studio. When Mikacich asked Conrad to do a show with her, Conrad began playing with the layering process that eventually led to a signature style evident in “Politically Vulnerable.” Back then she was layering her paintings with Plexiglass, which she said added a three-dimensional component to her work that brought depth and interest to her pieces. She created nine pieces for her show with Mikacich, seven of which sold.  

Conrad’s first piece, a sketch of dogwood on the back of a grocery bag, done at Mikacich’s studio

The process, however, was painstaking. Each of her works weighed roughly 75 pounds, and the process of cleaning the Plexiglass – using a flashlight to search for thumbprints, hairs, pieces of dust, or anything that would compromise her final product – often took up to five days. On a trip to Manhattan, she threw her back out while trying to maneuver one of those weighty pieces, and found herself in a friend’s apartment, lying on a bag of frozen peas.

When she returned to Sacramento, she didn’t paint for almost two months.

“At that point, I didn’t want to make art anymore,” she said. “It was like, I’ve gotten all the way here, but this isn’t working. I’m miserable. How is it that I made this such a chore, and such a job for myself? How can something I loved so much become so unenjoyable?”

It was her then-studio mate, Kim Squaglia, who helped Conrad fine-tune her process into something she could manage. Squaglia brought Conrad into her own artistic process, teaching her how to pour resin which, when done in layers, helped create a similar three-dimensional quality that Conrad had previously produced using Plexiglass.

“I love every single part of my process now,” she said. “I had to completely limit myself to learn how to be unlimited. Now, I won’t make paintings where I don’t like the process.”

Conrad spent weeks researching in preparation for “Politically Vulnerable”, looking for thought-provoking stories, then portraits of the women she would paint. She began first by blowing up portraits and used them to guide her through multiple applications of metal leaf, paint and resin to achieve images that are both modern and vintage. Each of her paintings is comprised of five to ten layers, and the result is something that feels both antique, yet new. Her work has an edge to it, fitting for the concept she tackled with the collection.
 

Pixilated photos like these served as a starting point for Conrad’s portraits

The controversy

Brownsey feels that, regardless of Conrad’s intent, her message leaves too much room for ambiguity.

“This is no comment on the artist or her work,” she said. “I see on some levels what she was trying to communicate, but I think that in the political world, where there are still issues that are associated with gender, that her message would not have been interpreted the way she intended it to be.”

Though Conrad said she understands where the misunderstanding based off of the Capitol Morning Report came from, she feels her message has an important place in feminist dialogue.

Conrad believes we live in a society that asks women to take their sexuality off the table if they desire a position of prominence or intellectual importance. In her portraits, the women are shown from the shoulder up, alluding though not confirming nudity, to reflect that her subjects were comfortable with their sexuality – something Conrad sees as an expression of feminism. She finds it ironic that Brownsey, a fellow feminist, is behind the movement while the restaurant partners who made the decision to remove her artwork are men.

“I’m getting censored by a woman who is trying to keep these women’s stories quiet, and the men are the ones making the decisions here on whose stories get told,” she said.

As for what’s next, Conrad said that Shults offered to pay her the remainder of what she was owed for the collection – which would then be auctioned off – but Conrad opted to retain possession of her work rather than receive full compensation for her time.

Last week, before she received the news that her collection would be pulled, Conrad already saw her work as partly an act of defiance.

“Society has wanted to tell women not to do a million things, forever – I think because they are scared of the power we have when we act. I don’t want to sleep with a governor, but I hope that my story at the end of my life is worthy of putting on that wall,” she said.

Now, the stories of the women she painted have become an integral part of her own story as an artist. She hopes to show her collection, along with the full version of her artist statement and a thirteenth piece that will be a self-portrait, on her own terms.
 

(shot and edited by Timeless Studios at Exhibit S Art Gallery at the Downtown Plaza)

UPDATE: Glenda Corcoran purchased Conrad’s collection on June 11

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Conversation Express your views, debate, and be heard with those in your area closest to the issue. RSS Feed

June 11, 2013 | 8:12 AM

Understandable that a nightclub would feel this way: “We’re not trying to make a political statement – we just want beautiful artwork and by no means want it to be offensive to anyone.”

Perhaps there is a larger platform for the art that makes a statement and is not meant as “décor.” I certainly hope there is one in Sacramento.

June 11, 2013 | 8:40 AM

A bit ironic for a bar that called itself “Vanguard,” however.

June 11, 2013 | 11:24 AM

Considering the way Vanguard is positioning and presenting itself, it could/would have been a perfect place for art that actually has something to say. If it’s really supposed to be targeted towards the 30-and-up, “grown and sexy” crowd (as Chris Macias’ cleverly put it in today’s Bee article), shouldn’t that crowd be open to having a conversation about art, especially the art that literally is right in their face while imbibing?

June 11, 2013 | 11:26 AM

And within eyeshot of the Capitol to boot…

June 12, 2013 | 10:02 AM

The problem though is that this art is not that controversial, thought provoking yes. A tribute to the strong women depicted, yes. This is what I find so sickening. It’s not really that political either, if at all.

What I find interesting is that the entire decision was made without really talking to the artist first starting with Brownsey then on to Natalie Paulsen, Trevor Shults, etc. It appears the whole thing was based on sort of a misinterpretation of what the work is about. I believe the artist could have changed her description a bit to more fully represent the work and it’s meaning, but basically these folks were all in an uproar over a few key word like Mistress and Political. Wow… just amazing that we are now well into the 21st Century and we can’t even artistically or intellectually approach something that, at most, is only slightly problematic. I guess business and politics rule.

June 11, 2013 | 8:35 AM

I love that art is not only about the piece, but about the discussion that follows. I want Sacramento to be a city that encourages interesting, controversial art. I guess we’re not there yet. Personally, I can’t wait to see this collection. I’m intrigued.

amw
Avatar of amw
June 11, 2013 | 7:22 PM

I feel the same way… Too bad Vanguard doesn’t have the guts to be…well, vanguard. I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to get there. I will see the exhibit ASAP!

June 11, 2013 | 8:45 AM

Tragic that because a woman believes an artist’s feminist message “would not have been interpreted the way she intended it to be,” she would go out of her way to have it censored, without herself even reading the artist’s statement, which was to provide the proper context on the wall of the Vanguard. The bar’s name is ironic, in light of their retrograde decision to silence this important conversation at literally the first sign of controversy, misdirected though it was. As Betty Friedan once said, “To suppress free speech in the name of protecting women is dangerous and wrong.”

June 11, 2013 | 12:38 PM

Don’t forget that Ms Browney and her lobbying firm were formerly part of and still claim close association with California’s Democrat controlled legislature. The website for Sacramento Advocates even brags that their firm will write legislation.

Just consider for a moment that we have a book-burner like Ms. Browne producing legislation for our derelict legislators. Sad.

June 11, 2013 | 9:31 AM

Great article!

June 11, 2013 | 9:40 AM

Pretty sad to see this happen, I would love to see those paintings at another bar or club. Maybe someone in town who is not a huge push over for political correctness can hang then in their establishment.

BTW anytime something like this is covered up it makes me want to see it more. It could be a blessing in disguise now that the public knows someone in the political world does not want this to be seen. I for one want to see more now.

June 11, 2013 | 9:41 AM

This decision has nothing to do with the art. It was a business decision to pull the art. I’m not saying censor her, however, as a business owner you can’t allow politics or artistic statements to get in the way of your business. The last thing the owner needs is a staffer to walk in, take offense to what’s displayed and decide that Vanguard will not be a place to hold any kind of events.

June 11, 2013 | 3:17 PM

I agree with that. It’s their prerogative to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. This is a club and they make money by selling alcohol, not art.

Now, like many others here, I want to see the collection more than ever. Hopefully there is an art gallery or other venue even better for the artist.

June 14, 2013 | 1:03 PM

You’re absolutely right. Being mediocre while at the same time trying to affect innovation and boldness is indeed a business owners’ prerogative. And no one should take that right away. However, the right to show public disdain for that mediocrity is also a right.

It’s always an interesting thing to watch business owners, whether local or national, try to figure how to offend the fewest number of people (or, if you will, appeal to the widest audience). It’s a dilemma that pops up all the time for TV and radio sponsors. At some point, though business motivations bump up against moral or social ones. It’s the nature of business.

cat
Avatar of cat
June 11, 2013 | 9:59 AM

This is Sacramento, the capitol of California! Politics is a cornerstone of our city. We can’t deny it. I am so disappointed in Brownsey and Shults for this decision, how dare you! These women WERE lovers, mistresses and muses of the Governors of our state, what is there to be offended by? This act sure doesn’t make me want to visit Vanguard, an establishment who believes in censoring artists for ridiculous reasons! Hey Shults, quit being a “yes man” and stand up for what is right…and censorship is not it!

June 11, 2013 | 12:57 PM

And most of the time they were wives too. It’s not a taboo word, you know.

June 11, 2013 | 10:41 AM

Not that my business is worth that much, but I’ll not go to a bar that censors based on a single source……….lame………

June 11, 2013 | 10:44 AM

I am so glad that Maren’s work will be able to find a better, more fitting home. Inspiring debate and controversy is the purpose of thoughtful art, and I’m glad that Maren’s is getting the attention it deserves. Sacramento needs more thought-provoking work such as this!

June 11, 2013 | 11:11 AM

agreed

June 11, 2013 | 10:44 AM

fascinating debate.
having felt ‘censored’ at times myself, i get it. both sides of it, actually.

June 11, 2013 | 10:49 AM

I guess I missed the part on why anybody, Trevor Shults or otherwise, cares about what Donne Browney thinks?

Other than being a lobbyist in Sacramento’s sleazy political machine, who exactly is this pathetic individual and why does anybody care what she think about art?

I suggest everyone give Sacramento Advocates Inc a call and respectfully ask Ms. Browney for additional art advice.

http://sacramentoadvocates.com/contactus.htm

Or better yet, call up some of Sacramento Advocates clients and ask why they have such a petty, whiny lobbying firm representing them in Sacramento. Here is the Sacramento Advocates Inc client list:
http://sacramentoadvocates.com/client.htm

June 11, 2013 | 11:26 AM

Vanguard won’t see a dime of my money, wake up and get a clue Trevor. Your are not as cool as you think you are. By kowtowing to one clueless women, you have alienated many!
I predict your new hot over 30 club will not make it a year…Karma

June 11, 2013 | 11:29 AM

you are brave to say that, zot. i mean, it really takes a courageous voice to call someone out publicly… while hiding behind anonymity.

June 11, 2013 | 12:05 PM

I was already planning on not giving Trevor a dime of my money, this just reinforces it. Funny how he doesn’t seem to give a damn what the neighbors think of Barwest, but now he’s suddenly concerned about his reputation and offending people. I too predict his cougar den will go over like a lead balloon…2009 called, they want their ultra lounge concept back!

Sacramento has produced a lot of challenging art, from the Royal Chicano Air Force to the Horse Cow Gallery, but they often encounter timid souls who fear controversy that might be bad for business.

June 11, 2013 | 8:27 PM

I wonder what the next target will be for Ms. Brownsey and her disapproving eye? I have long felt that the sculpture by the Holiday Inn / River City Brewing looks a lobbyist screwing herself. But what do I know about art?

June 12, 2013 | 4:36 PM

Can we just all agree that their website is painfully outdated. That, combined with the views of Brownsey make it apparent that they are not in touch with modern ways of thinking.

June 11, 2013 | 11:21 AM

The degree of controversy shows the effectiveness of the artistic theme and its execution. It evidently cuts too close to the bone for some. Thank you so much for covering this story. I look forward to learning where this art will be exhibited and seeing it in the real. As someone who goes to galleries more often than to bars, I see this as a kind of silver lining.

June 11, 2013 | 12:21 PM

Indeed. One would have to pay lots of money for this much publicity. Hmmm……I can’t help but wonder what’s going on behind the scenes.

June 11, 2013 | 11:30 AM

Great piece, Allison

June 11, 2013 | 11:45 AM

Allison. Great piece. Congratulations. I’m afraid the gentlemen who’ve made the decision to pull
Maren’s pieces are playing right into her creative hands. I hope to know where I can see these particular works of hers. It will probably have to be in a venue that has cajones the size of Maren’s. Right on.

June 11, 2013 | 11:47 AM

Bravo Allison, solid work. The Piper Laurie claim alone is worth the read. Look forward to seeing the banned art in a gallery.

June 11, 2013 | 1:24 PM

I was really looking forward to seeing this exhibition as well. Now I’m even more interested in visiting its future home here in Sacramento.

mdg
Avatar of mdg
June 11, 2013 | 11:52 AM

Maren can place that art in our tasting room….Rail Bridge Cellars Penthouse Lounge at The Elks Tower. We love her work, and look forward to her Art Class for kids starting next week.

June 11, 2013 | 12:10 PM

“We’re not trying to make a political statement – we just want beautiful artwork and by no means want it to be offensive to anyone.”

Good luck with that. Boring, tepid, safe artwork is offensive, too.

June 11, 2013 | 4:37 PM

“NO MESSAGE IS GOOD MESSAGE – let’s go for some unoffensive colors and patterns, maybe? No reds… those’ll rile ‘em up too much. Stick with greens and blues. Maybe some pictures of drinks so our customers will understand they are here to drink. They don’t even have to order; they can just point to the pictures on the wall! YAYYYY!!!111!!!”
- Vanguard owners

June 11, 2013 | 5:08 PM

Maybe he was expecting just some nice pictures of flowers, like the ones pictured in the article above.

June 11, 2013 | 12:44 PM

Way to go Allison Joy, making me so proud!

June 11, 2013 | 12:50 PM

I’m so thrilled (NOT) that we, as a society, have guardians of content such as Donne Brownsey. We have people like her to thank for banks no longer creating and displaying collections, for example. My bank manager told me that Bank X doesn’t want to take the risk of getting sued by people such as Brownsey. Maren should be delighted at the attention. If she didn’t have a reputation before, she does now. Bravo. She’s talented and the content is great. Vanguard should be thrilled about the press as well, and certainly shouldn’t cave to one person’s opinion.

Brownsey’s comment, that these paintings leave “too much room for ambiguity” is the most ignorant and offensive. She could benefit from an art history education, as that is precisely what art is all about- an exchange, an interpretation between what the artist intends and what the viewer interprets. It’s a wonderful guessing game.

June 11, 2013 | 12:52 PM

I’m unclear on something: The artist said, “and I’m not surprised that men are cowering away from this issue.” However the complaint that caused the removal came from a woman, Donne Brownsey. I think the restaurant owner should have not caved in to one woman’s opinion but they weren’t the ones who filed the protest. Am I wrong here?

June 11, 2013 | 2:20 PM

I’m a lifelong lover of art, and learned long ago that it’s terribly confusing to listen to what artists say about their own work. Maren seems articulate, but, for instance, the fact that her own thinking about feminism is what led her to produce the art shouldn’t influence your experience of the work itself (or your opinion on California first ladies). In this instance, I’m mostly failing to see what the feminist angle on the works really is….few to none of these women seem to be examples of people who felt constrained by the offices of their partners.

June 11, 2013 | 3:26 PM

The men who own the bar cowered in the face of controversy caused by one woman.

June 11, 2013 | 12:55 PM

“Governors’ lovers, mistresses and muses is about possession, and that’s not the message I was sending.”
That quote was confusing to me. That is or is NOT the message?

June 11, 2013 | 1:00 PM

The artwork (from the descriptions) is SO unoffensive and so appropriate for the state capital of California I can’t believe it is being censored because of one person’s over-sensitive reaction. There must be something more going on. Maybe this is a publicity stunt to get the name Vanguard out. I would boycott the place if they are this squeamish and un-progressive though.

June 11, 2013 | 2:23 PM

I agree that’s the crux of this…..I’m really struggling to see why anyone would find the work offensive. Sure, it’s a little edgy that close to the Capitol, but I think it would have been perfect for the location.

June 11, 2013 | 3:57 PM

Un-progressive?

It is classic progressivist behavior to censor and stifle any free expression that could be considered politically incorrect or insensitive to anyone ever. Unfortunately both Vanguard and Ms. Brownsey appear to be overwhelmingly progressive, based on their de facto censorship of some rather innocuous artwork.

June 11, 2013 | 1:09 PM

There’s a statement in this column that the women “owned their stories”, which seems to be true. Why couldn’t the show tell the stories of these women in a way that they stand alone, rather than by reference to them being “wives, girlfriends and lovers” of anyone else? That reference alone implies they are something less than independent.

Perhaps artists should create art and allow the viewer to make any appropriate connection.

June 11, 2013 | 4:34 PM

While I do not disagree, you have missed the point of this conversation.

June 11, 2013 | 1:10 PM

Well written piece Allison.

I’m very excited to spend my money in whichever new location does have the good taste (and the nerve) to show Maren’s work.

June 11, 2013 | 1:10 PM

One can see that Donne Brownsey’s objections are obviously absurd when one reads the artist statement that explains Maren’s motivation for the series, which Brownsey refused to do before launching her attack:

Politically Vulnerable

“We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.”

–Margaret Atwood, poet, author of Power Politics

Behind the scenes of politics, where “great men” rise to power by carefully protecting themselves from the vulnerabilities of their personal identities and histories, these ten women–wives, girlfriends, and mistresses of California governors–reveal their personal power by revealing their stories. Taken together, they represent the strength of baring one’s identity, telling one’s history, and facing one’s vulnerabilities, a strength often denied in the image-crafted world of politics and debased in the tabloid world of entertainment that finds its home in California. Though they are united by their shared connection to powerful politicians in the state, these women are celebrated for possessing their own personal puissance.
Six of the women on display are Hollywood actresses, one is a world-famous singer, and one is an award-winning television journalist and activist. The intersection of such celebrities with California politics, home to two movie star governors, is hardly surprising. What is most remarkable is the vitality these ten women exhibit through their vulnerability. First Lady of California Virginia Knight, whose first husband was killed in action during World War 2, was dubbed the “Viola Queen” by the Purple Heart Association for her long-time dedication to veteran’s causes in his honor. Linda Ronstadt, one-time girlfriend of Jerry Brown, enjoyed popularity with songs of emotional hurt like, “When Will I Be Loved,” “You’re No Good,” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).” Celebrated actress Piper Laurie, who lost her virginity at the age of 18 to her very first co-star Ronald Reagan, playing the role of her father in the film, demonstrated the courage to expose the painful episode in her memoir, Learning to Live Out Loud. Actress Nancy Davis, who endured Ronald Reagan’s love affair with actress Christine Larson, among others, while she was pregnant with his child, would later become known as “Mrs. President,” the real power behind the throne in the White House, and allegedly maintained her own affair with Frank Sinatra. Actresses Bridgitte Nielsen and Gigi Goyette both revealed their affairs with Arnold Schwarzenegger while he sought to keep them concealed. Maria Shriver, who defended her husband against charges of groping women during his campaign for governor, earned great admiration for speaking openly later about the difficult transition of divorce, publicly soliciting advice from her supporters on YouTube about what “enabled you to get through your transition.” Shriver, a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist born into one of America’s most potent political dynasties, has been a prominent activist for women’s empowerment, bringing prestige to the California Women’s Conference and conceiving the Minerva Awards, named after the Roman goddess of war and wisdom who adorns the California state seal, to honor “remarkable women who are both warriors and peacemakers.”
The portraits of these ten women suggest this essentially feminine paradox of strength in vulnerability. The white feather, symbol of both pacifism and courage, of innocence, unburdening, and renewal, is quintessentially a symbol of the power of lightness–it is at once associated with the enlightened drafting of political treatises like the Declaration of Independence and with the lighthearted unveiling of women’s bare bodies in burlesque shows. Gold, silver, and bronze leafing, used to embellish grand political edifices and holy portraits of the Virgin Mary alike, exalt the vivacity of these women by bringing their background into bright relief. A multi-layered application of paint sealed in resin suggests the layers of experience that construct identity, and the depth of histories that can provide vivid multidimensionality to one’s character, or remain concealed beneath the surface. The meticulous process of pointillism and stippling evokes the dot printing process of the magazines, newspapers, and tabloids that have brought the personal stories of these women to the public, and illustrates the curious nature of translation and distortion that are inherent in the representation of such histories through these media.

June 11, 2013 | 1:13 PM

Being a sole female owner of a venue (small but effective) here in Sacramento, I understand the political undertones of this town, having lived here almost my whole life. I would be proud to show these provocatively beautiful pieces at Shine. We are accepting submissions for 2014 (hint hint :)
Rena

June 11, 2013 | 1:31 PM

Am I reading that Donne, who I have NEVER seen EVER at a club in Sac, had art censored without witnessing it? That’s just cray. I hope the artist turns this into a win-win. Additionally, when I worked with her in Senator Roberti’s office in the 80′s, she did not every seem to represent the liberal vibe that most of us around Roberti did from Mel Assagi (a former Black Panther) to myself. Donne doesn’t really cary a lot of klout around the local bar, restaurant or club scene – and Paragary should have stood his ground and said, thanks, but we’re going to manage our joint as we see fit. The “controversy,” would have spurred more interest and fed the bottom line even more. This is just another reason why Sacramento has the stigma of being a cow-town, the undertow of these kinds of goings-on happens more than is reported or most know about. GET OFF THE GRID and LIVE.

June 11, 2013 | 1:33 PM

Shine, Old Soul, or Naked Lounge would be a better venue anyway.

June 11, 2013 | 2:30 PM

It’s really unfortunate that Brownsey got Maren’s art pulled and sheshould apologize to the artist (and everyone), for using her political clout to have it pulled. It’s art goddammit, it just did what it was supposed to do: evoke/invoke an emotional response, which it obviously did to her. Unfortunately she wasn’t sophisticated enough to figure that out. Basically, what she did was one step away from censorship. Even if she didn’t like the subject matter, isn’t it up to the viewers to decide for themselves what they should see and where, and in a retail business. Wouldn’t the “market,” dictate if the installation and location was successful? I wonder she actually viewed any of the art?

June 11, 2013 | 2:52 PM

I am visual. I actually thought the art needed to be more edgy, not by story but erotically. I guess that’s just my visual artist’s mind. Regardless…this will become a better story as time passes. Good job Maren…I am sorry because this must be heart breaking….but then again very proud of you for pushing the envelope! Someone’s got to do it!

jay
Avatar of jay
June 11, 2013 | 3:31 PM

I defend Donne Brownsey’s right to dislike the art even though I disagree. However I think Trevor Shults is misguided in his willingness to censor the art based on one opinion. It doesn’t surprise me, though, as Mr. Shults has exercised equally absurd judgement in the past, like promising the neighbors near his business BarWest he wouldn’t seek an entertainment license and then turning around and doing so. http://www.sacramentopress.com/headline/80095/Midtown_neighbors_cry_foul_over_BarWests_entertainment_permit_plans

June 11, 2013 | 4:31 PM

Is it not also ironic that a group calling themselves “Sacramento Advocates” has completely opposed the implied meaning of their title, instead censoring a Sacramento artist and the rich history of our political icons.

At the end of the day, we have to agree that there is no such thing as bad press. I’m enthused to support the artist wherever she shows her incredible work, and I will be happy to spread my opinion on this Vanguard venue which seems to cater only to the financial gain of political tourism and not Sacramento art/culture.

June 11, 2013 | 4:43 PM

This makes me NOT want to visit the new Vangard. I believe a name-change is in order. How about “The Closed Mind” or “The Cave Inn” or better yet, the “No Cohones Cantina?” Maren Conrad is a talent whose artistic concept and beautiful interpretation of a super-cool and thought-provoking theme will go unappreciated. If the Vangard expected to bring in the sophisticated 30+ crowd, this move is an epic fail.

dks
Avatar of dks
June 11, 2013 | 5:15 PM

Disappointing, to say the least. I will not be going to Vanguard or any other Randy Paragary eateries…until/unless Conrad’s artwork has been re-instated.
A better place for this collection is probably Citzen’s Hotel/Grange restaurant.
“Downtown Don”

June 11, 2013 | 5:56 PM

I am so disappointed that Ms. Conrad’s artwork was basically censored and even more sad that it was a woman doing so! I agree, I have no desire to visit the new Vanguard and hope that another venue displays her show. I mean, come on, what Californian doesn’t know about the Governor’s relationship with Linda Ronstadt? I am using the word censored since her art was in, and then some lobbyist complained, and then it was out.

June 11, 2013 | 6:29 PM

vanguard sounds lame. chris macias’ article was fun, but the concept seemed like a sports car with a beautyrest in back. great publicity for the artist. for the bar they may get the tea partiers and all those dudes last night in white suits.

June 11, 2013 | 7:11 PM

This whole thing sounds fishy to me. There’s absolutely nothing “offensive” about the portraits. A visitor unfamiliar with California politics probably wouldn’t recognize some of the subjects and certainly wouldn’t get the theme. Bar patrons rarely sit and stare at artwork; it’s just background decoration to them. There’s no way anyone could look at these portraits and find them “offensive.” So…how could a lobbyist decide the work was too controversial to be seen, when she hadn’t even seen it? And why would the bar owners agree with her so quickly, without even letting the public get a glimpse of it?

I have a strong suspicion that this whole debacle was planned. The bar gets publicity, the lobbyist gets publicity and the artist – who may or may not have been in on the scheme – gets both publicity and sympathy. Congratulations to all of them.

jay
Avatar of jay
June 11, 2013 | 7:38 PM

Check out Maren’s Facebook page. She forgives Trevor and says she doesn’t think it was his decision. Who’s decision WAS it then? Odd.

https://www.facebook.com/maren.conrad.79?fref=ts

June 12, 2013 | 5:54 AM

Yes, this has more than a whiff of setup and publicity shill about it.

jay
Avatar of jay
June 11, 2013 | 7:39 PM

All kinds of questions. Why does Maren forgive Trevor and say on her Facebook page that it wasn’t his decision? I hope she wasn’t part of a staged publicity stunt. I like her art too much.
https://www.facebook.com/maren.conrad.79?fref=ts

June 11, 2013 | 7:55 PM

I agree with most everything said here on this point. So disappointing that one bitty’s opinion was cause for denying the rest of us from enjoying beautiful and provocative art.

jay
Avatar of jay
June 12, 2013 | 12:39 AM

I don’t think it WAS one bitty’s opinion that was cause for denying us access to the art. No one had to listen to her. There has to be another reason the exhibit was pulled. What was it?

June 11, 2013 | 8:32 PM

Great piece Allison. Just as the Women she represents, Maren will not be silenced by Vanguard/Trevor or any man, no matter how powerful. I’m excited to see where the art will find a home. Perhaps at Old Soul on Broadway next to the Kevin Johnson shrine. Seems fitting.

June 12, 2013 | 9:10 AM

Guess the art would should not have been titled. The paintings are beautiful.

June 12, 2013 | 9:31 AM

I’m having a hard time believing that a local nightclub wants to be so vanilla they would not put this art up. So, vanilla music also at the Vanguard or just not artistic. Yep, let’s just be entertained and have art that serves as mere decoration. That is the problem with Sacramento, culturally. And, as a proponent of the farm to fork movement, I’m finding it sad that the owners of such a restaurant (next door to the Vanguard) would be so narrow minded and afraid of risks… it will make me think twice about where I spend my money and time.

I truly find this odd…

Brownsey feels that, regardless of Conrad’s intent, her message leaves too much room for ambiguity.

“This is no comment on the artist or her work,” she said. “I see on some levels what she was trying to communicate, but I think that in the political world, where there are still issues that are associated with gender, that her message would not have been interpreted the way she intended it to be.”

All art is to be interpreted by the viewer regardless of what the artists intent is. Brownsey needs to get out of Sac more often or at least learn a little more about art. I am already thinking that the way I would explain this art and it’s importance would be a little different than the artist, Maren Conrad’s.

June 12, 2013 | 9:44 AM

I would further add that the owners caved to a lobbyist group’s concerns about an artist claiming there is something wrong with this as what, a political statement? Anyone see the irony in all this. Money, power, and politics of those who can’t appreciate art or have a discussion about it before vetoing it, decide what the Sacramento public will have access to artistically.

June 12, 2013 | 11:49 AM

So, one woman that “thinks” this artwork is inappropriate for a bar-lounge has now dictated what art is acceptable for display in downtown Sacramento. Maybe she should do their menu choices and limit the alcohol served too. How about pu8tting all the wait staff and bartenders in black jumpsuits so there’s never a chance of offending anyone, or allowing others to enjoy beauty and differences. Too bad the Vanguard owners are not vanguards of their own thoughts and directions, and evidently have no guts or balls to say “This is what WE want for our place”.

June 13, 2013 | 7:44 AM

Vanguard is defined by Dictionary.com as either “the forefront in any movement, field, activity, or the like” or “the leaders of any intellectual or political movement.” If they had kept the art then perhaps they’d actually earned the name “Vanguard.”

I guess Trevor’s only a “vanguard” when it comes to separating people from their money with overpriced drinks and a cover charge for a bar. I really hope the riffraff of Barwest invades Vanguard as well. Even “bros” need to clean up every once in a while. Trevor created a mess at 28th and J Street and is unwilling to clean it up.

June 13, 2013 | 9:13 AM

Brownsey is a mistress (I’m being diplomatic) simply by her profession. Sad she would not see the same in art.

June 13, 2013 | 10:40 AM

You know, the first thing I thought of when I read about this kibosh was Rothko and the whole situation at the Four Seasons. I’m leaning toward the previous folks’ opinions that this joint isn’t appropriate for this specifically themed work. Mebbe some pseudo-Steampunk crap hanging off the walls and ceiling and stuff. That’s more apropos for a “grown and sexy” git bar. As for the PR stunt theories, well, there’s plenty of those over time in art history, but perhaps Conrad’s FB comments were just good sportsmanship. Who knows? I don’t, so I’ll just assume so. Either way, this is probably a blessing in disguise and somebody better be on the phone to the Crocker. At this point it would be stupid NOT to have a one time exhibit of this sooner or later.

And besides, most thirtysomethings in bars aren’t going to know who Linda Ronstadt is anyway.

(Note: hey you aspiring writer kids out there, remember to proof your work carefully. After I posted, I noticed that I wrote “Linda Ronstadt was”, which would of course put her in the same boat as Mark Twain. Oops.)

June 14, 2013 | 11:51 AM

Quibbling about whether a business owner has the right to first pretend to be interested in Art and then to chickensh*t out and opt for Interior Decoration instead isn’t the real point here to my mind.

The real issue is that this story is emblematic of a pervasive culture of mediocrity, timidity, and unimaginative fealty to the status quo that will forever prevent this very provincial town from being anything but a place two hours away from where you’d rather be.

What is this, Mayberry? Floyd the Barber might take offense?

Until the business community in this town legitimately shows an interest in the arts, with all of the controversy and edginess and stimulating public dialogues that art generates, we will continue to be a town and not a city of substance, no matter how many real estate deals we subsidize.

And further, the Arts community needs to start organizing and pushing this issue collectively at a civic level.

June 15, 2013 | 3:53 PM

well said William and i will not support the Vanguard. We have always been a place 2 hours from cool.
I love art and the people that create it but we are a cowardly art town.

June 25, 2013 | 3:36 PM

If there’s any justice, Glenda Corcoran will get Maren Conrad’s full “Politically Vulnerable” collection, along with additional pieces, sketches, interview snipits and other rich content on display in the Capitol Rotunda, right where Donne Brownsey can see it as she passes by every day.

July 11, 2013 | 9:04 PM

What’s missing here is the plain, obvious truth that the paintings themselves are pretty damn dire. My own suspicion is that the single solitary complaint was simply a very handy excuse to dump them.

July 27, 2013 | 12:43 PM

This is Pathetic……Her art is not profane, ugly, or Politically Incorrect……May Vanguard go the way of other failed ventures……Cowardly Owners…….Let’s bow down to the Political Proliterians……

June 11, 2013 | 4:52 PM

“Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.”

You were saying…?

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