SACRAMENTO — Adeliza McHugh didn’t 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 of a hope and a dream than anything real. Yet she’d seen his paintings at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento and knew he captured what she had in mind: art that moved; art that was interesting; art, as she often said, with a ‘kick’.
Marcus asked for the name of her gallery and McHugh soon came up with the Candy Store.
“She was 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 had to do so many things to get her build-up to code.”
The Candy Store: Funk, Nut and other art with a kickcurated by Shields at the Crocker, it celebrates the contributions of McHugh and her Candy Store to the arts in the Bay Area and California.
Anchored by the Crocker’s impressive collection of California ceramics and paintings, the show features works by Robert Arneson, Sandra Shannonhouse, Roy De Forest, David Gilhooly, Irving Marcus, Peter VandenBerge, and other Bay Area artists whose work regularly hits the Candy Store’s adorned. two showrooms.
The artworks on display in the Crocker demonstrate the sense of creative chaos that people may have felt when they first walked into the Candy Store. Many of the pieces are figurative and many are irreverent. The work can be political, subversive and laughably funny. Nothing here seems to take itself too seriously. Some of the work is downright scatological.
“Robert Arneson said he gave her some of the grossest pieces he could think of. And she sold them all,” Shields says.
There is very little data today that can tell us about the financial history of the Candy Store. The biggest hint we have is that McHugh kept the doors open for 30 years, between 1962 and 1992, and during her lifetime saw several artists who started their careers in her space become known nationally and internationally.
“What is a miracle to me is that she was able to live up to it in this small town in Folsom. [near Sacramento], at the end of Sutter Street, and sells this really avant-garde stuff,” Shields notes. “Her aesthetic, her eye was so far ahead of what every other gallery showed for so long. She had an amazing ability to pick out artists who would do well. Even today it is difficult for gallery owners in our area to make it work, and Adeliza has been making it work for 30 years. It showcases some of the most advanced art you can find in our region.”
She was tenacious, determined to convert her vision of art with a rush. While many of her sales went to long-term collectors, a untold number of people were convinced by the “hard sell.” These were people who knew little about this type of art, even some who came to the gallery sincerely believed that McHugh was marketing candy. But they would invariably meet McHugh (who lived above the gallery) and come to understand her sense of perseverance.
Those who weren’t quick to buy the art were offered offers to take a piece home, live with it, and pay for it over time, often at prices as low as $10 a month. Shields recalls an artist watching McHugh physically block a potential client from her gallery door until she closed the sale.
Still, not every sale was so difficult. 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 major art collector and patron), came especially to the small town of Folsom to see what she had to see.
For a time, she had a second location in San Francisco at Maija Peeples-Bright’s Rainbow House, which she occupied while Peeples-Bright lived in Italy. And while her San Francisco outpost never gathered the public who flocked to the original, she did use the location to work with New York galleries.
Shields explains, “I don’t know if anyone could do the same today. Part of it was that her overhead was so small. That confluence of energies in that moment, she captured it. Really rode that wave. I think she would have ridden it longer if not for the time so she had to move on I don’t know if it was health or just time to retire for Adeliza I think she was just slowing down really slow About ten years later she had a birthday party, so after that she was there for a long time.”
McHugh’s aesthetic centered on the countercultural figures who moved to the Bay Area during this period and spread between the arts programs at the University of California Davis and Sacramento State University.
Her galleries showcased many of the people who had participated in Peter Selz’s funk show at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as self-described Nut performers such as Clayton Bailey, and Jim Nutt and the others at Chicago’s Hairy Who.
The work can be loose, quirky, bright and showy. And yet, in the Candy Store, these pieces seemed right at home side by side. McHugh’s love for the art and her passion for the artist’s careers created a sense of community between the artists and artworks. If the art and artists shared nothing else, they shared Adeliza McHugh.
The Candy Store’s intimate walls and McHugh’s welcoming embrace became a haven for these artists. Many showed with her at the beginning of their career, just after their studies or just ventured into the professional art market.
According to Shields, “The cross-pollination of ideas was strong. These people were friends and would hang out together, go to her Sunday openings, sit on her porch for hours drinking white wine and her lemon pie. There was a lot of interaction. That was part of it. It’s hard to say how much her patronage and the sales she made helped these artists become the figures some of them became. Would they have done that without her? I don’t think it would have been that easy for some of them.”
The Candy Store: Funk, Nut and other art with a kick continues through May 1 at the Crocker Art Museum (216 O Street, Sacramento, California). The exhibition was curated by Scott Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator, Crocker Art Museum.
This article was made possible with the support of the Sam Francis Foundation.