For the fourth time in four years, the Joan Mondale art hanging has blossomed as one of the rites of spring.
The old art -- drawn from Southwestern museum collections -- was off the airy wall of the vice-presidential residence, and the new art was up. Yesterday, the new art -- 57 works from Pacific Coast museums -- went on view for the first time.
Henry Hopkins, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the person who pulled the collection together from 17 West Coast museums, posed for pictures with Joan Mondale. They stood in front of a kinetic sculpture by George Rickey -- a stainless steel pedestal supporting two tall silver prongs that move in the breeze outside the house, ("We told the gardeners they could wear hard hats," Mondale joked.) Mondale shivered in the snappy wind, the Rickey thrashed about and threatened to batter anyone within 20 feet, and Hopkins grimaced with each of the many camera clicks. "I suppose you're used to this," he murmured.
In this city where the ritual of recognition is as important as Inauguration Day or lunch at Sans Souci art was in the spotlight. And the press gathered to hear Mondale talk about the works over the annual ceremony of wine and lunch.
As part of Mondale's support for the arts in general and the visual arts in particular, she has filled the house with art from various regions of the country -- the Midwest, the Northeast and the Southwest.
"All you Democrats like art," a TV reporter said jokingly to Mondale.
"That's not so," she laughed back. "The boards of museums are filled with Republicans. They've got the money."
The new collection includes a rich figurative painting by Californian Richard Diebenkorn, an abstracted study of a "Delicatessen Counter" by Wayne Thiebaud, a ceramic type-writer with fingers instead of keys by Robert Arneson and a mysterious, unopenable wooden box of "Secrets" by H.C. Westerman. Other works are by such well-known artists as Clyfford Still, Sam Francis, Mark Tobey, Willem de Kooning and Robert Irwin. There are also a number of pieces by artists who are less well known, such as Kay Hendrickson, an Alaskan sculptor, Sam Maloof, a California wood-worker, and Lewis Simpson, a Michigan artist represented here with a color Xerox piece.
Mondale and her press secretary, Bess Abell, discovered the Hendrickson work -- a primitive-style wall sculpture of harpooned animal figures -- "when we stopped in Alaska to refuel on our way to China. Bess and I got a car, went to the museum and saw this."
When it came time to put the show together, Mondale made certain that Hopkins knew about the Hendrickson piece.
"We wanted to make certain we got a sense of what the West Coast was all about," said Elena Canavier, Mondale's adviser on the arts. "There are works that we specifically wanted to have and there are others things that we felt it was important to have so that the artist and the area would be represented."
While all of the art is from West Coast museums, all of the artists are not. What is bound to be one of the most talked-about sculptures, a series of fluorescent tubes mounted on the wall, is by New Yorker Dan Flavin.
The tubes "don't have any meaning, they don't make any social statement. That's exactly what Flavin wanted." Mondale said, attempting to explain to one questioner what she meant in describing the work as "minimal art."
Before Mondale's guided tour, her various associates were walking around, filling people in on the assorted objects throughout the first floor of the house. "There's a Joan Mondale ashtray somewhere around here, I know it," said Canavier, searching for the product of one of Mondale's own pottery classes.
Each of the previous exhibitions has been on view or a full year and the only part of the country not yet represented is the Southeast.
"We can't plan for that now," said Mondale, "we've got to get elected first."