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The Alternatives | ROAD TRIP

Beyond those bronze dolphins

August 26, 2004|Marc Weingarten | Special to The Times

Santa Barbara is beloved for many things, but art is not necessarily one of them.

Sure, the city can be picturesque, with its Mediterranean minarets and whitewashed Spanish-tiled buildings. It can be a party town. And it can be a consumerist fever dream.

Yet as a destination for viewing art, Santa Barbara has long had an inferiority complex. Connoisseurs sniff at the touristy galleries hawking bronze dolphin sculptures and watercolor seascapes.

That doesn't mean, however, that the art landscape is barren. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art has revamped its galleries this year and reinstalled a big part of its permanent collection. And without getting too deep into artistic merit (we'll leave that for the critics), private galleries regularly display work from notable names.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 27, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Art exhibition closing -- An article about art in Santa Barbara in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section said the show "Behind Door #9: 20 Years of Atelier Richard Tullis in Santa Barbara" at UC Santa Barbara's University Art Museum runs through Sunday. The show runs through Saturday.

In fact, you can put together a decent walking tour centered on State Street, the main shopping thoroughfare. (And that's not even including UC Santa Barbara's University Art Museum, which is about a dozen miles west of downtown. Its current show about a leading fine-arts press, "Behind Door #9: 20 Years of Atelier Richard Tullis in Santa Barbara," runs through Sunday.)

Start with some public art on display, a series of murals in the Old Board of Supervisors Assembly Room at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Painted by Hollywood storyboard artist Dan Sayre Groesbeck in 1929, the murals chart the history of the county in epic fashion across the room's four walls, from the arrival of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 to John C. Fremont's journey over the San Marcos Pass in 1846. The intricate Mudejar stenciled ceiling by John Smeraldi is also worth checking out. Docents lead free tours at 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and at 10:30 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

Only about a block from the courthouse is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. A privately funded institution since 1941, the museum has a collection of Asian art as well as works from French, American and English artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum has also drawn attention this year with its show "Art of the Americas: Latin America and the United States, 1800 to Now!," which groups seemingly disparate artworks by subject matter or visual links. (Admission is $7 for nonmembers, Tuesdays through Saturdays; free on Sundays.)

You don't even have to enter the museum to view one of its striking acquisitions. In an atrium to the right of the entrance, "Portrait of Mexico Today" is the only intact mural painted by David Alfaro Siqueiros in Los Angeles. The Mexican artist created the mural on the patio walls of a private Pacific Palisades residence during his year of exile in 1932, and it was moved to the Santa Barbara museum in 2001.

Two of Santa Barbara's higher-end galleries are on Anapamu Street, the cross street nearest the museum.

Staton Greenberg Gallery is an austere space that wouldn't be entirely out of place in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station. The gallery specializes in photography, and its current exhibition is an examination of the work of the Farm Security Administration photographers who chronicled the hardships of American farmers during the Depression.

Just east of Staton Greenberg is Sullivan Goss. A more formal space that opened in 1984, Sullivan Goss specialized in California art until last year, when it expanded to include all American art. Earlier this month, seven Bo Bartlett paintings were on display to coincide with a survey of work by the Maine artist at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The current show, curated by collector Barry Berkus, has a more local focus: "The L.A. That Influenced My Eye" includes 40 works by such Los Angeles artists as Billy Al Bengston, Edward Kienholz, Helen Lundeberg and Ed Moses. It runs till Sept. 22.

From Sullivan Goss, make your way back onto State Street and walk south. A cluster of galleries is at La Arcada Court. But as always, browser beware; they're wildly erratic.

Bottoms Art Gallery, Diana and Joseph Bottoms' overstuffed space, is a melange of painting and sculpture with no discernible organizing principle. Waterhouse Gallery relies primarily on works from members of the California Art Club for its collection of American Impressionist, still life and figurative art.

Gallery 113 specializes in locals, many of whom lean hard on the city's landscape for inspiration.

From La Arcada Court, continue down State Street and duck into the Victoria Court paseo, where you'll find Tierra Solida, which specializes in contemporary ceramics from California artists. Gallery owner Lisa Rowlison de Ortiz presents pieces running the gamut from traditional to modernist.

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