California African American Museum Exhibition; ‘The Legacy of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company: More Than a Business’

“The Negro in California History” by Charles Alston. Image via Modernica.For an off-the-beaten-path experience of Los Angeles art and architecture tradition (and maybe some conservation-minded learning experiences), the California African American Museum is in the midst of an exhibition of well-earned appreciation for the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance’s (GSM) collection of corporate art. The exhibition, titled “The Legacy of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company: More Than a Business,” was recently recommended by William Poundstone over at Blouin ArtInfo. Poundstone is quick to differentiate the value of this collection of corporate art from other lesser collections, even while bearing in mind its limitations: “The quality is wildly uneven, but that’s part of the interest. This is a core sample of one of the first systematic collections of its kind.” 

Poundstone’s interest in GSM’s art sensibilities extends beyond the items in the exhibition to GSM’s architectural contributions as well. For the lobby of its 1949 building, located at the corner of Western and Adams boulevards in Los Angeles and designed by Paul Williams, GSM commissioned murals by artists Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff. The fate of those murals is in limbo following the sale of most of the GSM art collection in 2007. In 2011, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History offered $750,000 for the two murals, and offer they later withdrew after outcry from local activists. “There’s a case for keeping the GSM murals where they are, in Williams’ landmark moderne building,” says Poundstone, “But the building’s future is equally uncertain. No one knows who will own it and with what intention.” Although community groups are trying to raise funds to buy the murals, both the murals and the building are expected to fetch hefty price tags.

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