top of page

Bey, Greenfield, Poppies and Formalism in Lancaster, California

By Mat Gleason of

We went to see the poppies. We stopped by the museum. There were some shows there we wanted to see but we had made the drive to Lancaster to see the poppies. They only bloom for like five weeks. The shows were up for seven or eight weeks but it was getting close to their closing and close to the end of poppy season.

I’ve been in the art world a long time and seen a lot of shows but I had never seen the poppy fields in person. Born and raised in Southern California and it wasn’t until a rainy season five years ago where the poppy fields bloomed that I understood the depth of the phenomena. That year the LA Times had daily coverage of poppygasms and maps to the best poppy places and tips on proposing to your sweetheart in poppyland until of course two weeks later the scolding voice that is the editorial conscience of the LA Times started in with its “Are the poppies too successful?” and “Shame on you for wanting to see the poppies. You are interacting with nature and that is not natural.” Their typical garbage approach to anything is pour it on high-level clickbait style and when that peaks, start shaming the Times readers for liking what the Times writers loved last week. Well, we didn’t go back then, but this year my wife said we were going, so off we went.

We stopped at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster first. It was windy outside but fantastic inside. When you go outside to see poppies you aren’t interested in which botanical subdivision their genus stands. You just want to look at pretty poppies, immerse yourself in color, space and infinity. We were there to see poppies on a formal level. We didn’t need the stupid LA Times micromanagement of our experience to remember that it is the state flower or other peripheral trivia. We were there for the pure poppy experience.

So why not be there for the pure art experience? Could we enjoy the shows at MOAH for their formal qualities alone? For their immersive potential? Forget what historical lineage they are part of, the deeper narrative or artist’s back story? Is museum work these days successful as an art object and art object alone? Is art at least on par with poppies when freed of the details of its subject matter?

Art history is long. Object makers might have the coolest story and the greatest reason that they made a piece to fit the historical puzzle, but narratives change. The formal strength of your work assists in making the art appealing to future generations who are not going to care about the issues of your day that you think are important. Those future generations (your great-great-great grandchildren if you are breeding) are going to care about something that looks like the early 21st century or something that looks great no matter what. So capture the look of your time or something timeless beyond mere subject or your art is going to be like you: eventually not immortal.

First up was a career survey of Mark Steven Greenfield organized by the museum’s curator Robert Benitez. I have followed this artist’s career for many years, decades even and recognized many of the individual artworks here from their original gallery shows. Greenfield’s paintings work on a formal level just fine. He has a calligraphic abstraction that is as interesting and disciplined as the seminal abstract painter Mark Tobey. Perhaps one day it will prove just as influential. A Mark Steven Greenfield is recognizable visually from a distance in a gallery with this signature calligraphy in the way the Ramones are distinct and original when you hear them playing in a passing car – multiple generations know exactly what it is. I would think that as his career continues, this approach to drawing, this masterful chopped salad of an approach to calligraphy in service to composition and rendering – that this is a fertile field for other artists to see and explore for the next few hundred years.


bottom of page