Wyland Opens His First L.A. Gallery. Should We Take Him Seriously?
Wyland Worldwide LLC
If you're into abstract art and kale salad, this event is not for you.
Hollywood and Highland's candy store on steroids, Sweet!, and marine life artist and conservationist Wyland will launch his first L.A. gallery located inside Sweet! this Saturday, April 12, in an event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This won't be the first time the sea life muralist has merged his signature paintings and mission with other businesses, an effort many have criticized as a greedy marketing scam.
The artist formerly known as Robert Wyland (now just Wyland) has lent his name to Disneyland and Sea World merchandise and art and a Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, and has created Wyland Records, the Wyland Store and Wyland Cellars (which sommelier and editor-in-chief of Snob Magazine, Jeffrey Gomez, has said is "absolute shit and should not be taken seriously"). Wyland Worldwide, his all stop shop for art, merchandise and events, is reported to make $100 million annually.
As part of this venture, Wyland will be introducing his own line of ocean-inspired chocolates available at Sweet! (A reminder that the exclamation point is in the title of the store, not at the end of our sentence.)
"It makes total sense," Wyland says of his collaboration with the 28,000 square foot store that's party candy, part entertainment. "I always look for creative ways to support with not only my art but my conservation, and Sweet! was the perfect partner."
Sweet! has been a longtime friend, fan and contributor to the Wyland Foundation, a non-profit organization that "bridges the world of art and science" by educating children about the world's waterways.
While his fans love the paintings as much as they appreciate the altruistic message, Wyland's commercial success and advocacy has been controversial. He's been to the art world what One Direction has been to music. Just a charming, dreamy-ocean-blue-eyed salesperson exploiting vulnerable hearts with mediocre talents to sell cheesy merchandise and fund a luxurious lifestyle (no offense tween girls all over the world).
The utopic scenes of whales, dolphins and sea turtles he's known for have often been described as "dentist office" art by more serious artists. In 2006, the San Diego Union Tribune reported that Hugh Davies, the director of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, said the museum wouldn't even accept a donated Wyland, because "he's not an artist whose work will be of lasting value." Derek Cartwright, former director of the San Diego Museum of Art, said he had never even heard of of Wyland.
"It's the craziest thing," Wyland says of his critics. "They want artists to be bohemian, starving, angry. I think an artist should be successful so they can give something back. I couldn't have done anything if I wasn't successful."
The 57-year-old is working on a book called Don't be a Starving Artist, outlining how an artist can be famous (and well fed) while he/she is still alive to bask in the glory. Wyland did start out like any other starting street artist, painting his first whale mural on a wall in a Laguna Beach parking lot.
The cynicism surrounding his art and advocacy does seem unfair. If he wants to spend his life painting dolphins all over the place for the sake of conservation and make a living, who are we to judge? Even Michelangelo had to pay the bills by lending his work for commercial uses (you don't think he got sick of painting apostles and prophets all day for the pope?)
Ok, so Wyland is no Michelangelo, but instead of writing poems about how miserable he is at his job (like Michelangelo did), he's created a thriving empire and has put at least some of his resources to good use.
He's painted hundreds of murals in the name of ocean preservation (one at Paramount Pictures studio), grants $30,000 to LAUSD teachers every year for Earth Month Heroes, funds educational programs for kids all over the state, collaborated with Jane Goodall for an upcoming documentary Blues Planet: Hope and painted on stage last year with fellow "kindred soul" Nick Carter and the rest of the Backstreet Boys, who donated the $34,000 dollar proceeds to his foundation.
But, he says, "Our ultimate goal is to inspire our kids to be ambassadors for the planet." One percent of all proceeds from Saturday's event will go to Wyland Foundation to help continue the global cause for water conservation.
The new L.A. Wyland Gallery will feature his original pieces, sculptors and giclees. During the opening, he'll be away participating in ADEX, the largest diving show in Singapore. But his mom will be there, as well as the Wyland Foundation entourage, the Food Network's Richard Ruskell running the chocolate station, a myriad of interactive art activities for kids saluting Earth Month and, of course, a giant chocolate sculptor.
Perhaps painting "dentist office" material is not such a bad business venture considering that's where these kids will be headed after this event.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter:
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.