When artist Valerie Bechtol was seeking a New York City co-op gallery willing to exchange exhibits with Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, she anticipated some resistance.
"Here we are across from the Price Club out in the middle of a bean field," said Bechtol, a co-op member who was director of the Costa Mesa art center while planning for the exchange. "New York artists want to show in L.A. but not necessarily in Orange County because Orange County doesn't have a reputation (for contemporary art)."
In fact, several galleries did lose interest when owners learned that the OCCCA isn't in Los Angeles. Yet in the end, she landed an exchange with her first choice, the Amos Eno Gallery, the oldest cooperative (at 13) in New York City's SoHo area.
The result is "East/West Interchange," a showing of works by 18 members of Amos Eno, which opened this week at the Center for Contemporary Art. An eclectic grouping of contemporary works, the exhibit includes sculpture, paintings, assemblages and encompass varied styles and media.
Creations by 27 Orange County artists in the cooperative based on MacArthur Boulevard go on display in New York June 6.
Bechtol got the idea for an exchange in January, 1986, while in New York for a national arts conference. In initial discussions with artists at several New York galleries, she found that some (including Amos Eno) had already taken part in such artistic exchange programs, which she said are becoming increasingly popular as a means of gaining more exposure for member artists.
"They seemed very receptive," Bechtol recalled in a recent interview at the Orange County center. "So when I came back, I presented the idea to the group here. They said, 'Yeah, let's try it.' "
She sent proposals for the exchange to 14 New York City galleries. "Amos Eno was actually my first choice, and they were the first ones to respond to us," Bechtol said. "That was a year and a half ago, so we've been working on it ever since."
Opportunities for Orange County art-watchers to see works by New York artists are rare, Bechtol said. The Amos Eno show is the first collective display of works by New York artists since a Newport Harbor Art Museum exhibit in 1984, she said.
Works on view include a series of satiric "Designer Guns" by Molly, who uses only her first name. The toy guns are outrageously decked out with sequins, lace and other incongruous decorations. The artist writes that her aim is to "shoot to laugh" rather than kill.
Kathy Constantinides, in one of her entries, outlines her involvement in "Window Peace," a project in which 51 women artists will each spend one week living in a Manhattan storefront window to protest the nuclear arms race. Constantinides' stint in the window ended Friday.
Other works include Joanne Segal Brandford's basket sculpture "Locked Together"; Gena Hegelman's untitled sculpture, in which a chaotic mass of black straw bursts from a wire screen, and Richard Rosenberg's "Baby Picture (Portrait of Marya)," a huge color picture of his infant daughter.
While just one Amos Eno artist attended the exhibit opening in Costa Mesa, about half of the art center's member artists will be making the trek east for the opening of the New York half of "East/West Interchange." And all are clearly thrilled about the prospect of being shown in the Big Apple.
"For some of the members it's their first time in New York, so that's going to be exciting," said Bechtol. In fact, just two or three of the gallery's artists have previously shown their work in New York.
"This is the first time that OCCCA has had any exposure outside of Orange County," said Marsha Turner, a member artist who is curating the Costa Mesa show with Bechtol. "It's a really good opportunity for the group."
While in New York, the artists will also have a chance to meet other artists. "It's just a good networking opportunity," Turner said.
The Amos Eno exchange--a first for OCCCA--will be followed by a similar swap with the Spectrum Gallery in San Diego in July.
The art center, with 1,600 square feet of exhibit space in a business park on MacArthur Boulevard, has been open for seven years. As with other co-ops, member artists cover facility costs, run the gallery and handle their own sales. (Commercial galleries usually take a 50% to 60% commission.)
"There are a lot of pluses to being in a co-op," Bechtol said. "The artists have total freedom in hanging a show--we're the ones making the decisions. . . . If someone wants to come in and paint the walls purple, that's fine as long as they paint them white again for the next group. You could never go in and do that in a commercial gallery.
"It's also an opportunity to show new work, experimental work. When they're not real confident about it yet, it's kind of a place to get their feet wet."