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1988: Year of the Arts? : San Diego's Ups and Downs, as Rated by The Times' Arts Staff

December 30, 1988|JACK MATHEWS | Times San Diego County Arts Editor

On the other hand, much was dubious about the musical achievements of 1988.

There was the major black eye given the arts community by the disastrous Batiquitos Festival at the beginning of summer. Promising a grandiose festival and educational program--an instant amalgam of Aspen and Tanglewood perched on the edge of the Batiquitos Lagoon--Batiquitos skirted bankruptcy two weeks into the five-week festival. It hobbled to completion, dropping concerts and begging noted musical educators to remain and teach for nothing.

The San Diego Symphony's programming this season was cautious and predictable, if not downright banal, avoiding American composers and contemporary music with a vengeance. In May, 1988, Gunther Schuller brought his "Concerto Quartenio" to Symphony Hall, but works by his American colleagues have been sadly absent.

For sure, the symphony's new administration under Wesley A. Brustad has its work cut out in rebuilding the symphony's audience, but patrons have not been flocking to the meat-and-potatoes fare offered thus far. Here's a New Year's resolution suggestion for you Wes: How about a little vision and imagination in 1989 symphony programming?

VISUAL ART

The story of the year, as noted, was Mayor O'Connor's Soviet Arts Festival, but the scandal of the year was the San Diego Port District's rejection in June of two public art proposals for the city's waterfront.

After more than a year of deliberation and dissent, port commissioners succumbed to personal prejudice and ignored the recommendations of their arts advisory committee, voting to kill not only Vito Acconci's revised version of "Sea of Green" and Roberto Salas' "Victory Palm," but also any hopes for a courageous, challenging use of the district's funds for public art.

Apropos of everything, the commissioners ended the year by turning their unused public art budget over to the mayor's fund for the Soviet Arts Festival.

We should pause, briefly, to acknowledge the year's most controversial sculpture, William Tucker's "Okeanos." The cast bronze sculpture, named for the Greek god of the sea, wowed the critics, some of whom thought it looked like a wave. But passers-by at Scripps Clinic, where it is installed, wondered if it hadn't escaped from one of the clinic's labs, or if it weren't, in fact, a scatological joke.

Anyway, the real news at Scripps was the announcement of Muriel Gluck's $3-million donation to the San Diego Unified School District. It was a nice counter, 10 years later, to the damage done to arts education by Proposition 13 and is the year's consensus MVP. But there were other good deeds and deeds well done in visual arts during the year.

The steady growth of the Stuart Collection of outdoor sculpture on the campus of UC San Diego. Under the thoughtful and imaginative direction of Mary Beebe, the collection has commissioned eight site-specific works in the last five years, from a range of internationally acclaimed artists.

In 1988, William Wegman's witty "La Jolla Vista View" was installed, as well as Bruce Nauman's provocative "Vices and Virtues." Funded by a private foundation, the Stuart Collection has quietly but diligently pursued its aims "to integrate artistic thinking into the fabric and life of the campus and to enhance the university's physical and social environment."

The success of its efforts has brought about a welcome turn of events: next spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles will be bringing members of its support group down to La Jolla to view the collection.

The continued evolution of a downtown "arts district," further enhanced this year by the opening of the Oneiros Gallery, the ABC--Art+Architecture/Books/Catalogues--store, and several small clothing and jewelry boutiques.

The appointment of Kathleen Stoughton as director of the Mesa College Art Gallery, a move that brings an ambitious new vision to the community college's art program and bolsters the city's serious art offerings.

The San Diego Museum of Art's "Cultural Currents" exhibition, a refreshing sign that innovation and insight have not been permanently banned from the programs of the city's largest art museum.

POP MUSIC

It's been a year of extremes for the San Diego pop music scene. The highs were higher and the lows were lower than in any year in recent memory. A number of outstanding achievements make 1988 a year San Diego pop boosters will always remember, preeminent among them the resurrection of the downtown California Theater as a concert venue, the success of a nightclub devoted to local rock bands that play only originals, and the focusing of the national spotlight on several hometown heroes.

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