By ERIKA MARTIN | Reporter
To share their passion for the work of London-based artist Benjamin Creme, Brentwood residents Olga and Scott Champion have opened a museum in Pacific Palisades dedicated to his art. The Benjamin Creme Museum, located in a third-floor suite at 881 Alma Real Drive in the Village, first opened to the public last October.
While Creme’s work has been exhibited in galleries across the globe, the Palisades showroom is the first museum dedicated solely to the artist’s work. It currently contains 17 original paintings and three lithographs from a global group of collectors, including some pieces from the artist’s private collection.
Olga said the museum’s mission is simply to display Creme’s art for others to see and experience. “We just fell in love with his art,” she said. “We feel it’s incredible and groundbreaking modern art.”
The conceptualization of the museum came about organically as the Champions are personal friends of Creme, whom they met at a meditation retreat 15 years ago.
“He’s been collected by some serious institutions, but not like I think he should,” Scott said.
Getting the project off the ground was still a big undertaking for the couple who work full-time day jobs in finance and health insurance. “For us it was a learning experience,” Scott said.
Creme, now 93 years old, has lost his eyesight and is no longer able to paint, but that didn’t hold him back from playing a large role in the museum’s design and curation. All the text on the paintings’ description plaques was composed by Creme himself. He also consulted on the placement of the paintings, such as stipulating that “Thangka for the coming Buddha Maitreya” (1965) should be the museum’s central piece and that the museum should focus more on his later work.
Creme was a lifelong artist. The museum’s earliest piece, “Woman in Green Dress,” was painted in 1946 when he was just 24 years old. While Creme’s earlier work reflects the grey dinge of his native Scotland, a youthful journey to the south of France marked a strict departure after which his paintings became illuminated with combinations of colors at once subdued and electric.
After 1960, his art became more esoteric and spiritual, and most of the museum’s pieces are from this later era. The work is notable as Creme is one of few esoteric artists, Olga said.
“The range of the paintings is incredible,” she said. “He names them modern mandalas because it is a concept, not a portrait, not a still life, not a landscape.”
Esoteric art focuses on forms and colors, usually on a flat surface, as the artist creates something purposefully artificial such as a sign or a symbol. Indeed, Creme’s art uses shape and color in unexpected ways, and the art differs from other modern art in its decidedly meditative symbolism.
“You have to spend time with each painting and experience what the artist is expressing through the paintings,” Olga said. “That is where the experience starts.”
Scott added that while Creme’s modern paintings have been sold by a dealer in London for a number of years, he’s never really made his esoteric paintings public.
“They’re his babies,” Scott said. “I imagine there are 15 or 20 people who have a piece or two.”
According to Olga, the current collection is only about one-third of what the couple can actually exhibit, but they are limited on space and hope to eventually relocate. In the future they hope to also host programming such as group meditation and lectures.
So far, the museum has hosted hundreds of visitors with some trekking across the globe from places like New Zealand, the Philippines and Canada. On its opening day, at which Creme was present via Skype, the museum attracted 53 visitors.
Running the museum is a labor of love for the Champions, who are not selling any paintings or materials and volunteer their time there.
“In other words we’re simply sharing with the public what we have,” Olga said.
The Benjamin Creme Museum is located at 881 Alma Real Drive, Suite 320. It is open Wednesdays from 3-7 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 424-744-8121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.