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Keeping a Healthy Following

Venice Art Walk, in its 20th year, showcases local artists' work to benefit a family clinic.

May 02, 1999|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

Twenty years ago, when Sheila Goldberg joined forces with other volunteers to organize the first Venice Art Walk, she never dreamed the event would become an enduring component of the local art scene. Like Ruth Bloom, who chaired the inaugural fund-raiser, Goldberg and other art patrons were merely looking for a viable way to support a fledgling charitable institution in their community--the Venice Family Clinic, which provides free medical and mental health services to homeless people and the working poor.

"When we started the Art Walk, I was told that an event like this has a shelf life of about five years," Goldberg said. But the Venice Art Walk will celebrate its 20th anniversary on May 21-23. Meanwhile, its beneficiary--founded in 1970 by Dr. Phillip L. Rossman and Dr. Mayer B. Davidson--has become the largest free clinic in the nation, serving nearly 17,000 people each year.

The signature art image of Venice Art Walk '99--reproduced on T-shirts and posters--is David Hockney's vividly colored, panoramic painting "A Bigger Grand Canyon," which was exhibited last year at L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice. Taking its cue from Hockney's celebration of an American landmark, this year's version of the popular weekend art festival will be bigger and better than ever, said Goldberg, who has led the Venice Art Walk for the past 17 years.

The program includes art and architecture tours, exhibitions, an auction of contemporary art, a food fair, children's activities, musical performances and special receptions. A bit of history also will be on view in a display of posters from past Art Walks and photographs of people who attended earlier events, she said.

Tracking the Art Walk's fortunes over the past two decades, Goldberg said the festival faltered--along with the art market and the local gallery scene--in the early 1990s, but it seems to have bounced back. As for her continuing commitment to the time-consuming project, she attributed her tenacity to her personal interests.

"The combination of the clinic and art is the perfect marriage for me," she said. "I love working with the people. And to see the result at the end of the day is very exciting." Apparently, many of her colleagues agree. This year's cadre of about 500 volunteers includes stalwart supporters who have "hung in for 15 to 18 years," she said.

The Art Walk has evolved from a three-hour event in 1979 to a three-day festival, and attendance has grown from 500 to about 5,000. Headquartered at the Westminster School, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd., the multifaceted affair is a sort of giant open house at artists' studios and various other locations in and around Venice.

Twenty artists participated in the first event, Goldberg said. This year 55 artists--including Diane Buckler, Laddie John Dill, Didi Dunphy, Robert Graham, John Okulick and Ann Thornycroft--will open their studios. Some of them will host the work of other artists; for example, Larry Bell's work will be on view at Charles Arnoldi's studio, and Lisa Adams will share space with Marian Lane. About 25 additional art-related spaces, including architecturally notable homes and businesses with art collections, will be open as well.

As usual, the annual silent art auction and preview exhibition, at Westminster School, will provide a broader perspective of Southern California's contemporary art. This year's sale will offer works by 350 artists, including Kim Abeles, Peter Alexander, John Baldessari, Ingrid Calame, Gronk and John Outterbridge. The preview is scheduled May 22, from 4-6 p.m.; bids will be accepted May 23, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Ticketed packages to the Art Walk range in price from $45 for a self-guided walk through artists' studios and other activities to $120 for a docent-guided tour, auction preview and gourmet lunch at a restaurant. Other options include a $50 cocktail party in honor of the clinic's volunteer physicians at DC3 on May 23, from 6-8:30 p.m., and a choice of two $100 concerts and champagne dessert receptions in distinctive homes on May 21, 8 p.m. The Hockney T-shirts will be sold for $15 apiece; posters are priced at $15 unsigned, $50 signed.

Last year the festival netted nearly $500,000 for the clinic, which operates on an annual budget of about $8 million, Goldberg said. She hopes the 1999 version will bring an even bigger return, but other benefits of the annual event are also important, she said. "The Art Walk's contribution is a relatively small part of the clinic's budget, but it's the face of the clinic, the way people get to know it and the way we recruit new people. The Art Walk celebrates the clinic."

Besides that, she said, "It's fun, especially for collectors. If you go on the Art Walk, you may end up walking around with artists whose work you own."

Reservations for docent tours must be made by May 14. To make reservations or request information, call (310) 392-9255.

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