Governors' muses, mistresses prompt art debate

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 28, 2013 at 3:35 am •  Published: June 28, 2013
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A town normally absorbed in budgets is in a dither over dalliances, specifically whether the former paramours of California's governors are a laudable topic for an art exhibit.

Where else would former Arnold Schwarzenegger lover Brigitte Nielsen be on the same wall with Nancy Reagan and Linda Ronstadt, who dated Gov. Jerry Brown in his first term four decades ago?

The 10 women in artist Maren Conrad's 12-painting collection were chosen because all had a sexual relationship with a California governor, or a man who would become one, the artist's research showed. But they also share something that the artist says made them worthy of a modern-day feminist art exhibit.

"They all stood up for themselves and their shared sexual experience," said Conrad, who majored in art and women's studies at Chico State University.

Conrad chose subjects who were open about the relationships and told the stories on their own terms. The exhibit includes Ronstadt, who when she was dating Brown said she had her own career and wouldn't be taking up first lady duties, but omits his wife Anne Gust Brown. Schwarzenegger's estranged wife Maria Shriver is there, as is actress Nancy Davis depicted before she was a Reagan. Ronald Reagan's ex-wife — actress Jane Wyman — is in the mix, too.

Also among the group is a masked composite meant to represent the women called liars when they accused Schwarzenegger of groping and other untoward behaviors. No portraits are overtly sexual.

"I had trouble narrowing it to 10 women," said Conrad.

The collection of oil-pen paintings Conrad calls "Politically Vulnerable" were designed to hang in a new Capitol-area nightclub called Vanguard, but they were sent back to her studio after a powerful feminist lobbyist complained to the club's owners.

On Thursday evening, the exhibit was displayed at an art gallery in downtown Sacramento, drawing a steady stream of wine-sipping visitors.

"It's innocuous. It's quite tastefully done. I think the Vanguard is losing out," said Sacramento banker Becki Roberts as she gazed at a portrait of Linda Ronstadt.

"And all the women in the portraits should be flattered. They're beautiful," added her friend Frances Knight.

The nightclub owners had given Conrad a down payment, and she created the intricate pixelated pieces to evoke old newspaper clippings, then gilded the backgrounds in gold leaf and coated them with lacquer to fit the new bar's elegantly gaudy decor.



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