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Gallery of Growth : Orlando Gallery retrospective displays a wealth of California works that were introduced during nearly three decades at the Sherman Oaks space.

August 05, 1994|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly for The Times. and

SHERMAN OAKS — Robert Gino is leading a brief tour of local art history this morning, guiding a visitor through his Orlando Gallery and the nearly three decades of painting, sculpture, assemblage and photography around him. It's all work from California artists, work Gino and his late partner Philip Orlando have introduced to the world via their space in Sherman Oaks.

If there's an added note of excitement or pride in Gino's voice, it's perhaps fueled by the evidence here of the gallery's rich history. "There is so much good art out here in California that doesn't get the proper attention," says Gino, 65.

The Orlando Gallery has dedicated itself to giving California artists that kind of attention since 1958. Beginning today, the gallery presents a sampling of its legacy in a retrospective show that travels from pop art to traditional figurative painting, from abstract works to conceptual art, and beyond.

"They may have never got started if we didn't give them their first chance," he says of the emerging artists the gallery has introduced over the decades. "They may have never had the courage to go out and fight the world of art."

Gino says he expects to show more than 100 pieces in the show, officially titled "Orlando Gallery Collection, from 1960 to 1989," which continues through August.

Among the works in the exhibition will be Susan Clover's paintings of seaside realism, and Gary Miner's conceptual art "kits" from the early 1970s. In one of those humorous works, the "Laguna Beach Sunset Sculpture Kit" offers prepared and sealed packets of sand, shells and a painted sunset.

One painting by Michael Lloyd is a large canvas of deep blues, mixing precise geometric squares with abstract splashes of paint.

"This was done over 20 years ago," Gino says of the painting. "It's a magnificent work. This is why I'm showing the collection. Some of this stuff I was showing in the '50s and '60s and '70s are just as avant-garde in the '90s."

Don Grant, the 40-year-old nephew of the late Orlando, and now a partner in the gallery, added: "What's great is to watch them grow."

Over the years, several of the gallery's artists have moved on to greater notoriety, including photographer Judy Fiskin, who was the subject of a solo show last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The Orlando Gallery was showing Fiskin's small photographs back in the 1970s.

But Gino acknowledges that it was sometimes a struggle to introduce contemporary art, particularly by little-known California-based artists, in the San Fernando Valley.

When the gallery opened at its first location in Encino in the late 1950s, the Ventura Freeway didn't exist.

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Yet Gino and Orlando, both artists themselves, were determined to carve an identity far from the established Los Angeles gallery scene on the west side of town.

"I don't think art should be in one designated area," Gino says. "It's for the masses. How can you pin it down and say this is the only place you can go and see art. People should go to it and see it."

To keep the gallery alive during the early days, Gino took two outside jobs. Orlando also worked another job, and at one point the gallery was selling certain paintings for as little as $5. "We didn't make any money off the gallery" throughout the 1960s, Gino says, though things finally turned around in the 1970s at the Sherman Oaks location, where the Orlando Gallery has been for the last 20 years.

"There are some people who are not afraid to explore and express themselves, and they buy art more now than they used to," Gino says. "Especially younger people. I find the younger generation enjoys it so much."

Meanwhile, other galleries have come and gone in the Valley, some of them in the very same neighborhood.

"Financially it's difficult," Gino says. "I have learned to do without to survive. But I love art. It's important to me. If I had to go out and get another job, I'd go do it."

Where and When

What: "Orlando Gallery Collection, from 1960 to 1989," a retrospective.

Location: Orlando Gallery, 14553 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Reception at 8 tonight. Ends Aug. 31.

Call: (818) 789-6012.

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