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SIGHTS AROUND SANTA BARBARA : Everyday Objects : Italo Scanga's exhibit is the first show by an out-of-towner at Ro Snell, Santa Barbara's newest and most promising art space.

October 08, 1992|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What you find in the Ro Snell Gallery currently are tools of various trades. That is, the handyman's trade, the machinist's trade, the florist's trade and, last but not least, the neo-dadaist's trade.

The neo-dadaist in question is internationally known, multimedia artist Italo Scanga, whose new sculptures stand tall, and cagily smudge the boundaries between form and functionality.

Objects of industry and domestic utility--from the all-but-the-kitchen-sink department--are joined in a kind of absurdist way. In the gallery you find doorknobs, measuring tools, wrenches, frying pans, decorative wrought-iron objects--a bucking bronco, a grape leaf--and other items useful in the real world.

Expressively painted and welded into gaunt, almost-Giacometti-like sculptures, these everyday objects are thus elevated to a lofty status of art. They are, literally and symbolically, put on a pedestal.

The works toy with various definitions of the meaning of function. Aside from the purpose of the individual materials making up the sculpture, the pieces themselves act as grandly designed flower stands. Each holds a fresh flower in a glass vase (also designed by Scanga).

A foreboding saw, worthy of a lumberjack, stands vertical and holds a flower, and is effectively transformed into a thing of unexpected beauty. And the pursuit of unexpected beauty is a kind of undercurrent in the witty garden of delights that is Scanga's recent work.

In the back gallery, we find examples of Scanga's two-dimensional work. The charcoal and acrylic pieces are minimalistic, gentle abstractions with a vague mid-'50s quality to them.

The real challenge at this stage of the art historical game is to make something fresh out of the practice. Scanga succeeds. His work ends up as much more than just another high-art prank in an age when cleverness and sensationalism are rewarded.

Scanga's exhibit is the first show of works by an out-of-towner at Ro Snell, Santa Barbara's newest and most promising art space. Housed on the lower floor of the Carillo Hotel building, the gallery is a much-needed addition to the hungry but precarious art scene in Santa Barbara.

*

Over at the Contemporary Arts Forum, there is a diverse triple play of shows worth visiting. Santa Barbaran Tom Stanley's "Actual Size" is a self-contained conceptual sideshow, while the "Ojo Abierto/Open Eye" photography show is a window on Latino culture and art.

"Ojo Abierto/Open Eye" is a vibrant photography display featuring the works of Los Angeles-based Latino artists, including some images from a series by Frank Romero--a broader selection of whose work is now up at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard.

Most of the photographers approach the medium from unorthodox angles, including Laura Agualar's large, jarring, confrontational nude self-portraits consuming one wall of the gallery. Unframed and lacking any coyness or elaborate aesthetic artifice, these images leap into the visitor's vision.

Ricardo Valverde's works combine photography with oil on unstretched canvas, instilling a conscientious sense of friction between the real and the rendered. Christina Fernandez shows prints in negative form, including images of limbs and hands rendered otherworldly by the process.

Maria Elena Boyd's nude shots are variations on the famous pre-Raphaelite image of Ophelia.

With "Actual Size," Stanley shows signs of being an obsessive miniaturist, which, in some way, is related to those artists attracted to epic scale. Exaggerated scale is the turf of extremists, for whom size is an issue.

Having said that, Stanley works well by thinking small and avoids easy gags. The exhibition is made up of tiny wood relief sculptures, paintings on wood, a mock TV, photographs from around the neighborhood with a wooden leaf as a movable landmark.

As a whole, the show works as a well-packaged concept.

* WHERE AND WHEN

* Italo Scanga, through Oct. 17 at the Ro Snell Gallery, 926 Chapala St. in Santa Barbara, 966-2009.

* "Ojo Abierto/Open Eye," the work of seven Los Angeles photographers, and "Actual Size," works by Tom Stanley, through Oct. 24 at the Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo in Santa Barbara. Info: 966-5373.

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