SACRAMENTO — Adeliza McHugh did not even have a name for her gallery when she approached Irving Marcus about showing his work. It was 1962 or 1963 and the space she had in mind was more a hope and dream than anything real. Yet, she had seen his paintings at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento and knew that he captured what she envisioned: art that moved; art that was interesting; art, as she often said, with a “kick.”
Marcus asked the name of her gallery and McHugh quickly came up with the Candy Store.
“She was actually selling candy at the time,” explains Scott Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator at the Crocker Art Museum (formerly the Crocker Art Gallery mentioned above). “The candy sales stopped when the health department came in and said she needed to do so many things to get her building up to code.”
The Candy Store: Funk, Nut, and Other Art with a Kickcurated by Shields at the Crocker, celebrates McHugh and her Candy Store’s contributions to Bay Area and California art.
The show is anchored by the Crocker’s impressive collection of California ceramics and paintings, and includes pieces by Robert Arneson, Sandra Shannonhouse, Roy De Forest, David Gilhooly, Irving Marcus, Peter VandenBerge, and other Bay Area artists whose work regularly graced the Candy Store’s two showrooms.
The artworks on display at the Crocker demonstrate the sense of creative chaos that people might have felt walking into the Candy Store for the first time. Many of the pieces are figurative and many are irreverent. The work could be political, subversive, and laugh-out-loud funny. Nothing here seems to take itself too seriously. Some of the work is bluntly scatological.
“Robert Arneson said that he gave her some of the grossest pieces he could think of. And she sold them all,” says Shields.
Few records exist today that could tell us about the Candy Store’s financial history. The biggest hint we have is that McHugh kept the doors open for 30 years, between 1962 and 1992, and in her lifetime she saw several artists who had started their careers in her space become nationally and internationally renowned.
“What’s a marvel to me is that she was able to make a go of it in this small place in Folsom [near Sacramento], at the end of Sutter Street, and selling this really out-there, avant-garde stuff,” Shields notes. “Her aesthetics, her eye was so far ahead of what any other gallery was showing for so long. She had an amazing ability to pick out artists that were going to do well. Even today, it’s hard for gallery owners in our region to make it work, and Adeliza made it work for 30 years. Showing some of the most cutting-edge art you could find in our region.”
She was dogged, determined to proselytize her vision of art with a kick. While many of her sales went to long-term collectors, an untold number of folks were convinced by the “hard sale.” These were people who knew little about this kind of art, even some who showed up to the gallery genuinely believing that McHugh hawked confections. But they would invariably meet McHugh (who lived above the gallery) and come to understand her sense of persistence.
Those who were not quick to buy the art would receive offers to take home a piece, to “live with it,” and pay her over time, often at prices as low as $10 per month. Shields recalls one artist watch McHugh physically block a potential customer from the door of her gallery until she closed the sale.
Still, not every sale was so hard. McHugh and her gallery had a reputation separate from any superstar artist she showed and sold. Celebrities, such as the actor Vincent Price (who was a significant art collector and patron), came to small-town Folsom specifically to see what she had on display.
For a time, she had a second location in San Francisco at Maija Peeples-Bright’s Rainbow House, which she occupied while Peeples-Bright was living in Italy. And though her San Francisco outpost never amassed the audience that flocked to the original, she did use the location to work with galleries in New York.
Shields explains, “I do not know if someone could make the same go of it today. Part of it was her overhead was so small. That confluence of energies at that particular time, she captured it. Really rode that wave. I think she would have ridden it longer if time had not made it so she needed to move on. I don’t know if it was health or just time to retire for Adeliza. I think she was just really slowing down. She had a birthday party about a decade later, so she was around for a good while afterward.”
McHugh’s aesthetic centered on the countercultural figures who gravitated toward the Bay Area and proliferated among the art programs at University of California Davis and Sacramento State University during this period.
Her galleries featured many of the folks who had participated in Peter Selz’s Funk show at University of California, Berkeley, as well as the self-described Nut artists like Clayton Bailey, and Jim Nutt and the others in Chicago’s Hairy Who.
The work could be loose, idiosyncratic, bright, and garish. And yet, in the Candy Store, these pieces looked at home next to each other. McHugh’s love for the art, and her passion for the artist’s careers, created a sense of community among the artists and artworks. If the art and artists shared nothing else, they shared Adeliza McHugh.
The intimate walls of the Candy Store, and the welcoming embrace of McHugh, became a haven for these artists. Many showed with her at or near the start of their careers, just out of college, or just venturing out into the professional art market.
According to Shields, “The cross-fertilization of ideas was strong. These people were friends and would hang out together, go to her Sunday openings, sit for hours on her porch, and have white wine and her lemon cake. There was a lot of interaction. That was part of it. It is hard to say how much her patronage and the sales she made helped these artists continue on to become the figures that some of them became. Without her, would they have? I do not think it would have been as easy for some of them.”
The Candy Store: Funk, Nut, and Other Art with a Kick Continues at the Crocker Art Museum (216 O Street, Sacramento, California) through May 1. The exhibition was curated by Scott Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator, Crocker Art Museum.
This article was made possible through the support of the Sam Francis Foundation.