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ART: Ventura County | SIGHTS

Innovative Efforts

Among the new stars in gallery scene, some shone brightly while others fell.


It was a good--albeit fickle--year for art in Ventura County. New galleries came and went, some joining the area's mainstays. In other words, as in most years in most places, art wobbled yet prevailed.

Ojai suddenly found itself with a clutch of new galleries in 1997, including the short-lived, high-idealed Sweet Art Gallery, which showed work by Billy Al Bengston and Ed Ruscha before shutting its doors. Others keep the Ojai art scene alive, including the new Milagro's Nest Gallery, showing work by Beatrice Wood, Otto Heino and others. In the same complex, the Carlton Gallery and the Nomad Gallery carry on the mission.

Just in December, the Bagier Gallery opened down the street, next to the Ojai Valley Gallery. Robin Bagier's nicely appointed new space opened with good work by the Ojai-based painter Seco and pieces by Diego Rivera, Ad Reinhardt and Elisabeth de Vescovi. The Bagier Gallery is full of promise and adds depth to the local art scene.

In one of the most significant additions to the Ventura scene this year, the clothing store known as Natalie's Fine Threads transformed its upstairs room into a fine gallery space, which has proven very suitable for showing work.

From out of the blue--a cheerily funky blue--came the kitsch emporium-gallery with the somehow-apt name of Spork Orbit. Down on thrift-shop row on Ventura's Main Street, amid the campy decor items, the gallery showed works by such impressive artists as Ahbe Sulit before closing.

Other familiar spots shifted gears. Gallery One One One, which had an inspiring run of exhibitions throughout 1996, changed its name to the Nye Gallery and scaled back operations this year. The Childress Gallery in Ojai had fewer shows, but still demanded attention with art by Rachael Winn Yon and David Vangilder.

Ojai-based photojournalist Horace Bristol, who so elegantly strode the line between art and reportage, passed away in August. Meanwhile, ceramist Beatrice Wood, everyone's favorite spry 104-year-old, was honored with a sizable retrospective exhibition organized by the American Museum of Craft in New York City. The show came home to the Santa Barbara Art Museum in the fall, giving a well-rounded historical accounting of Wood's growing legacy.

The landscape still benefits from its established spaces, Ventura College's two galleries. In separate corners, the Buenaventura Gallery continues to be an outlet for the mostly staid work of Buenaventura Art Assn. members, while Art City II hosts fringe dwellers.

Institutionally, both the Ventura Museum of Art and History and the Union Oil Museum in Santa Paula program art as part of shows of historical exhibitions.

Other stalwart art spaces carried on, including the Ojai Center for the Arts, Thousand Oaks Community Gallery and the rotating shows on the walls of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Nestled in the Janss Mall in Thousand Oaks, Gallery 9 offered a home for locally generated art.

In Oxnard, the reliable neoclassical edifice known as the Carnegie Art Museum presented a few shows of merit in its spacious, luminous galleries. The museum, led by Suzanne Bellah, achieves a delicate curatorial balance by combining interests, mixing up the conservative and the challenging. The Carnegie--which also gives due attention to local artists, including a stunning show of paintings by Michael Dvortcsak--continues to be the anchor of the art scene here.

This fall, museum officials outdid themselves by showing the work of noted photographer Brett Weston and Expressionist Kathe Kollwitz, under one roof.

At the risk of nurturing stereotypes, you had to pinch yourself in the face of such cultural sophistication and wonder, "Is this really Oxnard?" Yes, it is. The Southern California art scene does dip into this county, and sometimes impressively so.

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