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San Diego Enters the Digital Age

October 23, 1994|Suzanne Muchnic | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

The San Diego Museum of Art will join the digital age on Wednesday with a public unveiling of its Interactive Multimedia Art Gallery Explorer (IMAGE) Gallery. Visitors to the new first-floor installation will find a series of information systems equipped with Macintosh Power PCs that offer easy access to 300 works in the museum's collection.

As is typical of interactive programs that are moving into art museums all across the nation, from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to the Seattle Art Museum, no computer expertise is required to use IMAGE Gallery.

By merely touching the screen, visitors can conduct research on artists, see magnified details of artworks, determine the size of a work compared to a human figure, hear foreign names pronounced, create personal tours of the museum and print maps of their routes.

"If all people know about art is that they like flowers, they can call up that subject and learn something about 17th-Century Dutch still-life painting," says Holly Witchy, SDMA's associate curator of European art and supervisor of the project. "This offers people an opportunity to learn about things that they themselves choose."

To allay curators' fears that visitors will be so fascinated with the computers, they will ignore the actual art, IMAGE Gallery "is completely driven by making you want to go upstairs to look at the art," she says.

Two-hundred artworks in the program were selected by curators. The remaining 100 were chosen for their educational value and popularity. Other pieces will be added in the future, Witchy says.

IMAGE Gallery was conceived when museum trustee Maurice C. Kaplan saw Micro Gallery at London's National Gallery of Art and offered to help finance a similar interactive computer guide at the San Diego museum. The Getty Grant Program awarded $100,000 to the project, through a program that aims to enhance the role of art museums in public education. The software was developed by Cognitive Applications Ltd., creator of London's Micro Gallery and a similar system that's in the works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

VITAL SIGNS: As Bergamot Station continues to attract crowds to the sprawling new art complex in Santa Monica, gallery life goes on in West Hollywood. Among this week's happenings, dealer Louis Stern--who closed his Beverly Hills gallery last spring--is hosting his first show in a space he now shares with the Jan Abrams Gallery. The exhibition, opening Wednesday, features surrealistic paintings by Richard Baker. Stern is also planning an exhibition of drawings, "The Classical Line," to be curated by Josine Ianco Starrels. Maintaining two galleries under one roof, Stern and Abrams will present separate exhibitions on an alternating schedule, but may collaborate in the future.

Three other galleries have openings scheduled in the neighborhood on Saturday: "Michael Goldberg Paintings: 1951-1961" at the Manny Silverman Gallery, "Tim Burton: The Museum of Unnatural History" at Thomas Solomon's Garage, and "Jay DeFeo: Drawings and Photo Collages From the 1970s" and "George Herms: Project X" at the Kohn Turner Gallery.

Kohn Turner will also show a sampling of artists' books from Lapis Press, a Venice-based book publishing company owned by artist Sam Francis and directed by Robert Shapazian. The press recently won New York Art Directors awards for art direction and book design--the latest of 20 major design awards claimed by Lapis.

Meanwhile, Louis Stern's brother, a specialist in American art from 1890 through World War II, is moving his gallery from Encino to West Hollywood. George Stern is planning to launch his new space, at 8920 Melrose Ave., around the first of November with a show of early California Impressionism. His second exhibition, slated to open Dec. 3, will feature contemporary paintings by Santa Barbara artist John Comer.

RARE ADDITION: A bound album of drawings by French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) is the latest acquisition of the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. Purchased at an undisclosed price, the rare work--one of 12 similar albums, only five of which remain intact--contains 98 drawings made in Italy and pasted into a bound volume. Subjects include antique sculptures and reliefs in Roman collections, studies of Old Master artworks, Italian landscapes and views of Rome. David made most of the drawings during his first sojourn in Italy, in 1775-81 as a recipient of the Prix de Rome.

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