YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : The Big Picture : The Museum of History and Art selects some refreshingly offbeat works for its annual Assembly of the Arts exhibit.


Who has a finger on the pulse of the art scene in Ventura County? Is it too big, sprawling and pluralistic a spread to get any kind of coherent handle on?

Once a year, the Assembly of the Arts show at the Museum of History and Art has its admittedly subjective say on the subject. The 11th annual exhibit offers a collective portrait of the county's aesthetics as defined by out-of-county jurors under one roof. This year's exhibit is refreshingly offbeat.

The jurors, Santa Barbara artists Dane Goodman and Mary Heebner and Los Angeles gallery owner Joni Gordon, pondered 248 works by 98 artists, whittling the number down to 43 paintings, sculptures and prints on display.

The most charming, and controversial, wrinkle shows up in the choice of its first-prize winner, Kyle Lind's fanciful and folksy monolith of a painting, "Auto." It's hard to miss, both because of its looming seven-by-eight-foot size and the dizzying naive brushwork splashed on every inch of the ample canvas.

Oxnard-based Lind, who earned $1,000 for his winning painting, is a man without a car and has said that the painting has an ecological message. But the image, of a car enveloped in swirling, abstract organic forms, is open to broader interpretations.

No right angles appear in the painting's fluid flux of blobs and swooping gestures. Womb-like references blend with a murky tree of life flung almost haphazardly into the composition, which seems to have materialized with stream-of-conscious spontaneity.

Lind's clumsy but engaging pictorial poetry has the sure, anti-academic charm of folk art.

Second-place winner Brenda Kenworthy also traffics in blobs, suspended ethereally in her painting, "In the Ether." Does this tell us something about the jurors' proclivities?

Speaking of unexpected poetry, Carolyn Russell's wonderful, small, almost drolly simple landscape paintings are mounted on campy wood frames and slathered in glaze. The end results are self-conscious artifacts that look like they were rescued from the back room of a thrift shop.

Gerd Koch's gutsy paintings meld biomorphic imagery from the Gorky school of abstract expressionism with mystical landscape evocations.

And what would a Ventura County group show be without something by the Russian-cum-Ojai painter, Slava Sukhorukov? The painter seems to have turned away from his intense, polemical Soviet allegories of years past.

"Fisherman" features a stark, amorphous figure tipping over in a chair against a pitch-black background. Is he being pulled in by his prey? The narrative plot doesn't matter so much as the painting's careful ordering of tensions and a dark comic undertone.

Suzanne Schecter, whose painting in last year's exhibit was that show's finest work, shows another deceptively innocuous painting this year. "The Alley" finds a girl in an ambiguous sinister alleyway, viewed from above in a thicket of loose, unfussy brush strokes.

Winners in the sculpture category come from diverse perspectives, from third-place winner Bill McEwen's gaunt and gangly stainless-steel pieces to Lotar Ziesing's cheeky, '50s-esque dada assemblages that double as clocks.

In photography, inventive Venturan Mark Murphy shows two of his conceptual pieces in which he poses ceramic figures and then photographs them in a highly controlled setting--thereby detouring around photography's presumed "decisive moment" aspect.

Amani Fliers' intriguingly peculiar computer print shows Italian men hunched in a hermetic, dim-lit space--a church, a library, a netherworld cocktail lounge? The questions add up to mystery.

These are but several of the noteworthy pieces in a show that confirms what we suspected about the healthy, creative energy levels in artist studios in our area code. At a time when gallery representation for local artists with serious--and not just pretty--ideas is scarce, the exhibit takes on added significance.

Comings and Goings, Part 1

Art-watchers in the county may have noticed that the Conejo Valley Museum of Art, which closed "for the summer," was quite conspicuous by its absence this fall.

Last month, the museum opened its doors again with a definitively pleasant show of Andrew Loomis' art, after five months of struggling with a politically divided board and finally resuming activity on a volunteer basis.

Maria Desornes, who had resigned as president last year, took charge again, saying, "We're back in business. Hopefully we can stay in business. It's going to be a struggle, but it would be a shame to give up after all this work."

The Loomis exhibition is an ideal populist way to re-enter the exhibitional ring. A magazine illustrator in the vein of Norman Rockwell and an author of popular art instruction books, Loomis was at his best when he was at his corniest.

Los Angeles Times Articles