Restaurateur Randy Paragary yanks controversial paintings off new bar's walls

Sacramento artist Maren Conrad’s latest series is proof that when it comes to art, a little dose of controversy can be a good thing

A version of this story originally appeared on SN&R's blog, Page Burner, at

Sacramento artist Maren Conrad’s latest series is proof that when it comes to art, a little dose of controversy can be a good thing. A really good thing.

Approximately six weeks ago, Vanguard club owner Trevor Shults commissioned the 33-year-old Sacramento artist to create a collection of paintings for the downtown establishment, which had its grand opening on June 14.

Conrad came up with Politically Vulnerable, a series of 12 paintings depicting 10 notable wives, girlfriends and lovers of California governors. Think Linda Ronstadt (Jerry Brown), Maria Shriver (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Piper Laurie and Nancy Reagan (both Ronald Reagan).

Conrad installed the works at Vanguard and even did media interviews.

Then, on June 8, Conrad learned that the collection was at risk of being pulled because Donne Brownsey, a lobbyist with Sacramento Advocates Inc., deemed its subject matter offensive. Brownsey, in fact, had contacted Randy Paragary and asked that the collection be removed—or else she’d take all her business elsewhere. Paragary, who operates the Paragary Restaurant Group, collaborates with Shults on various projects.

Conrad received a text message informing her of the restaurant’s decision to remove the art. Then, on June 11, The Sacramento Bee published an article about Vanguard’s opening—complete with pictures of Conrad’s work.

As news of the decision traveled quickly via social networking, Brownsey told a Sacramento Press reporter:

“This is no comment on the artist and her work. I just think it was an unfortunate choice of a theme [of] … mistresses, lovers and muses of California governors.”

Conrad said Brownsey doesn’t get it.

“[Her viewpoint] is based on an old-school approach to feminism, one in which women don’t talk about their sexuality, especially in relation to politics,” she said. “Then, she went to Randy Paragary, the head of a patriarchal restaurant group—that’s the least feminist approach ever.”

Conrad said she reached out to Brownsey—to no avail. In an email, the artist invited Brownsey to meet with her, to read her artist’s statement, to reconsider notions of feminism and politically vulnerability.

Brownsey reportedly rejected the appeal, writing back that she knew the incident was “very disappointing” for Conrad because “your commission got pulled.”

But the Politically Vulnerable collection has already found a new home with Sacramento lawyer Glenda Corcoran, who purchased all 12 paintings.

Meanwhile, reports that Conrad may create another set of work for Vanguard are partially true.

The restaurant’s owners will have to “extend an olive branch,” she says, before any collaboration is resumed.

Still, she added, what started with a shocking request has yielded new ventures.

From the purchase of her collection, to an upcoming June 27 exhibit of the pieces at her downtown studio to the “love and support” she’s received from friends and strangers alike, Conrad said the experience has ultimately been, weirdly perhaps, overwhelmingly positive.

“I came out the clear winner in all of this,” she said.