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WESTSIDE / VALLEY : Artists Show There's Strength in Numbers by Opening Own Gallery

July 18, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

About a year ago, Elliot Elgart and Sam Amato, two longtime professors of art at UCLA who had recently retired from teaching, got together with artist friends Barbara Drucker and Ray Brown and started kicking around the possibility of opening a gallery. In it they would organize shows of their work and the art of friends they would invite to join them in the endeavor.

"We felt there was a group of artists not being represented by galleries," Elgart said.

Beginning with this gang of four, the group grew to 22 artists and together they incorporated and formed FIG, First Independent Gallery. They opened their space on Broadway in Santa Monica in February with plans for two solo exhibits for each artist--one major, one minor--over a two-year period. Now in the gallery is the summer group show, "Small Works," which presents the various mediums, styles and content of the work of all but one artist involved in the cooperative effort.

"We decided from the beginning to allow for many diverse expressions," Elgart said. "We have no ideological ax to grind."

Unlike in traditional galleries, where directors determine which artworks to include in an exhibit, FIG artists have complete freedom to show the works of their choice. "Artists have control of the destiny of the gallery," Elgart said. "That's unusual."

The artists' command of the gallery stems not just from the decisions they make regarding the display of their art, but from the fact that each of them has a financial interest in the gallery.

As an artists collective, "we're different because we're not nonprofit. Each artist owns a share in the company. We're shareholders," Elgart said. "We don't expect to make a profit in a recession, but what we are doing is giving ourselves the opportunity to show our work. And we're staying open unlike a lot of galleries that are closing."

"It's an oxymoron, artists getting together as business people," said artist and shareholder Dean Andrews. "But artists made a monetary commitment and took responsibility. We were aware of the economic times and went in with our eyes open. We'd like to sell our work, but the existence of our gallery is not dependent on it. We're for-profit, but we have a nonprofit mentality. We want to do community outreach."

FIG artists range in age from early 30s to mid-70s. Although many live on the Westside, a couple of them come from as far away as Long Beach and Costa Mesa.

One may wonder how 22 individuals accustomed to following their own paths could possibly come to a consensus on many things. But Andrews said they work together as a group very well.

"We're all concerned with the benefit of the group," she said. "We share duties--everything on a volunteer basis. We understand there can't be a lot of friction, so we're very tolerant for the best interests of the group."

"We work through differences by discussion," Elgart added.

They gather in a big circle in the gallery to talk business, having brought their own chairs with them. Everyone has an opportunity to state a position on an issue, and then they vote. Majority rules.

Artist Susan Wolff said she sees FIG as "friends committed to each other." For her, "the human factor is much more important than what's on the walls."

FIG artists are: Sam Amato, Dean Andrews, Diane August, Joe Blaustein, Ray Brown, Claire Chene, Orval Dillingham, Paul Donaldson, Barbara Drucker, Elliot Elgart, Theresa G. Fernald, James Grant, Arleen G. Hendler, Curtis Hoekzema, Eileen G. Hyman, Al Johns, William Lane, John Martin, Mitsuko Namiki, Don Spicer, James Urmston and Susan Wolff.

There will be an "Artist Talk" from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday with August, Blaustein, Elgart and Fernald.

"Small Works: Summer Group Show" is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays through Aug . 7 at FIG, 2022A Broadway, Santa Monica. Call (310) 829-0345.

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BASEBALL ART: Behind the alluring facade of big league baseball there stands the humble realm of the minor leagues. The photographs of Andrea Modica and Jim Dow at Paul Kopeikin Gallery capture different aspects of that world, and remind viewers of the down-to-earth, human elements of the grand old game that seem to have slipped out of big city arenas.

Modica has photographed several of the players of her hometown team, the Oneonta (N.Y.)Yankees, with an 8-by-10 view camera. Her serious, edgy black-and-white portraits have been put together in the book "Minor League." It is part of the Smithsonian series, "Photographers at Work."

Dow also uses an 8-by-10 view camera to shoot his color views of spiffy, almost surreal-looking major league stadiums and the scruffier minor league stadiums. Most of the images show no evidence of players or fans. "The bigger, fancier stadiums are the places where dreamers gather to watch their fantasies played out in front of them. The small ballparks are where the dreamers gather to play," Dow says.

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