Arts '85 In Review : Leaps And Bounds Aplenty

December 31, 1985|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

SAN DIEGO — The year 1985 was, with few exceptions, one of steady, if uninteresting, growth for San Diego's cultural arts. While a proposed sculpture by New York artist Ellsworth Kelly and the San Diego Symphony's conversion of the Fox Theatre attracted the greatest attention, local artists and some pint-sized cultural institutions again showed why they should not be overlooked.

As indicated by scores of sold-out performances, a number of residents were entranced by the arts offerings in the county's snug, storefront or below ground level cultural hideaways.

Few theatrical productions in San Diego had the self-assured emotional punch of "Billy Bishop Goes to War" at the North Coast Repertory Theatre. The tiny Solana Beach stage company was one of a handful of small theaters that offered first rate performances, using actors who are technically non-professionals. At the Bowery Theatre a dozen actresses displayed impressive skills in "Talking With."

The chic little Gaslamp Quarter Theatre in 5 1/2 years has found its metier in staging plays with in-depth, unhurried character development. In terms of cast and staging, the Gaslamp's production of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," was one of the finest shows produced in San Diego this year.

In the visual arts, a number of local artists received a big validation in the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art's "A San Diego Exhibition: Forty-Two Emerging Artists" and from the accompanying response to it, "More is More," a Salon des Refuses , at the La Jolla Public Library for those miffed at not being selected for the museum show.

Among local painters sculptors, photographers and installation artists whose works attracted attention this year were Raul Guerrero, Ernest Silva, Jay Johnson, Wick Alexander, David Avalos, Kenneth Capps, Gary Ghirardi, Walter Cotten, Suda House, Frank Cole and Mario Lara. In the performance art and alternative performance arena Philip-Dimitri Galas and Poyesis Genetica, with Sara-Jo Berman, Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Luke Theodore Morrison, made avant gard-ish waves.

San Diego's two major art museums tended to focus on collections and collecting in an effort to encourage residents to begin collecting--the strongest direct support of the visual arts. The San Diego Museum of Art's "Fortissimo! Thirty Years From the Richard Brown Baker Collection of Contemporary Art," was a stunning example of one man's encyclopedic taste and passion for collecting. Where else but in Baker's collection could one find Franz Kline's celebrated "Wanamaker Block," or Hans Hofmann's abstract Expressionist "Fortissimo," or "Blam," a major piece by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, among other canvases by surrealists, collage artists and photo realists.

Two other exhibitions at the Museum of Art, highlighting collections, one private, the other public, drew crowds. Forty paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters in a handsome collection from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts were exhibited with drawings by French romanticist Jean Louis Gericault. The museum's current show, "American Masters: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection," through Jan. 12, is attracting sizable crowds. A selection of American paintings from the world's second-largest private collection, the exhibit--though not jammed with masterpieces--is an exemplary survey of American painters and movements from the 18th Century to the 1970s.

While San Diegans came in droves to the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art's San Diego artists exhibition and a posthumous exhibit of the works of San Diego photojournalist John Hoagland, they kept their distance from the minimalist abstractions of Robert Mangold. However, the bold and harsh figurative evocations of contemporary torture victims by Leon Golub attracted serious interest as did the large wooden sculptures of James Surls.

One of the most exciting developments of 1985, in its potential if not in the realization, was the conversion of a large portion of the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park into gallery space. The gallery, which officials at the center say eventually will become a museum, fills an important artistic and cultural gap in San Diego with its strong exhibitions focusing on Latino culture and border-related issues.

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