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Inventive Images

April 14, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Buenaventura Gallery is not a space one usually visits to find unusual art. For the most part, the exhibitions lean toward conservative aesthetic values, confirming what we know and dealing straightforwardly with such genres as landscape and portraiture.

But something surprising has taken root this month. Sculptor Bill McEwen's "Turnbuckles" installation transforms the showcase gallery space into a structural host for contraptions that interact with the walls themselves. Hardware is elegantly strewn about, wires are strung around screws in the wall, and numbered bolt heads and giant cables are draped across the wall and sometimes make their spidery way along the ceiling.

McEwen's installation is a series of works scattered throughout the gallery. A large diagram on one wall, illustrating a large metal buckle and with hasty calculations scribbled on it, evokes a schematic mind at work and a work in progress.

He has also created large outdoor sculptures, and in a way the compact pieces here seem to be straining to break free of the gallery's space, adding tension to the installation. One plant-life-related piece, for example, is rooted in a concrete block on the floor. A massive cable sprouts upward and trails along the ceiling, like a limb seeking sun.

In all, the "Turnbuckle" installation is both site-specific and site-reliant and seems to heed both natural order and elements of post-industrial life. What we get from this show is an ambiguous celebration of the inventor's spirit, yet rendered with the searching, intuitive eye of the artist. He doesn't mind the messy parts and the balance of order and chaos, which gives the art interpretive breathing room.

DETAILS

Bill McEwen, the "Turnbuckles" installations, through May 5 at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; 648-1235.

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Hidden Treasure Department:

Sometimes, the best--or at least most surprising--art shows are tucked away, awaiting discovery and avoiding hype. Such is the case with a modest photography show now in a side gallery at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

"Altered Landscapes" was culled from the museum's collection and originally intended as a logical companion piece to the grander "Dual Visions of the American West," an exhibition of color landscape photography. But the black-and-white "Altered Landscapes" deserves consideration on its own merits, as a socially charged glimpse into the transitional zone between landscapes and their human-oriented incursions.

Several images are striking, including Robert von Sternberg's casual nocturnal shot in a Huntington Beach parking lot. The palm trees appear as mysterious, oddly lighted figures, just as the palm trees in Ted Orlando's "Palmus, CA" contrast with a concrete column ready to buttress a new freeway, an unnatural visitor to the landscape.

The art itself offers its own messages here, but a larger theme is also afoot. It has something to do with the idea that nature can be tamed, but not without environmental and psychic costs.

DETAILS

"Altered Landscapes" through May 6 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.; 963-4364.

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Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com.

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