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Artwork by Joe Palsa
"Risoletto," MAH

Construction Sights

An ambitious countywide art exhibit stokes Santa Cruz's love affair with assemblage and collage.

By Maureen Davidson

A doorbell, a bird's nest, a three-legged chair, a chest full of canceled checks--this is the stuff of subconscious fears, unexamined joys and moments of unnamable connection with truth, beauty and order made corporeal by artists at work in the deep wells of their imagination. Quite literally hundreds of thousands of diverse objects of the most random nature have been deployed by some 200 artists in 16 exhibitions in 14 venues throughout Santa Cruz County in a collaborative effort that will mostly be in evidence by this Friday, Feb. 4 as part of "Assemblage + Collage + Construction: A Collective View of Art From Multiple Santa Cruz County Venues."

The massive title is quite appropriate for the ambitious feat, which turns this county into one giant gallery featuring artworks in which artists have brought together disparate objects and found images, juxtaposed them for similarities or contrast, tinkered with the context, applied formal aspects of aesthetics and transformed them into something new.

Whether it's called collage in two dimensions or assemblage or construction in three, such work has been recognized as an art form only in the 20th century, after such innovators as Picasso, Duchamp and later Rauschenberg and Cornell broke ground with it. But before it had an art name, it existed deep in a part of human nature that likes to arrange things picked up, torn out, collected consciously or unconsciously, saved, then put together with formal precision or arranged with very personal logic. Altars and shrines are made that way; so are shelves and corners of homes and offices. These are places where craftsmanship reaches its ultimate expression; medieval cathedrals are filled with reliquaries that are the apotheosis of a stonemason's or a glazier's art. Some works slip beyond logic into obsession, filling front lawns entirely with whirligigs, bottlecap archways or collections like that in the Pajaro Gallery's imaginary "Lone Arranger" room, where every drawer is a chamber of someone's psyche.

The idea for the collaboration was conceived by Susan Hillhouse, curator of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, which has just opened the flagship exhibition that features 104 artists from around the United States. Each exhibition is curated and presented from a different point of view.

This Friday is a perfect night to see the downtown galleries opening for the First Friday artwalk, but don't miss the Sesnon, the Pajaro and the Cabrillo exhibits and the Art League show that opens later (full disclosure: I helped jury the Santa Cruz Art League show). It's a progressive feast.

Note: In the following schedule, opening receptions that are part of First Friday Artwalks on Feb. 6 or March 6 are designated by an asterisk (*). All locations are open to the public free of charge during this collaboration. Exhibition descriptions, timelines and maps are available at


Artwork by Robbie Schoen
Felix Kulpa Fountain

Simply Red Again
Through Feb. 7

Experiments in Print
Feb. 11-March 14
Reception: Friday, Feb. 13, 6-8pm

Photo Phinish
March 18-April 18
Reception: March 20, 6-8pm

Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, 9341 Mill St., Ben Lomond.; 831.336.3513

The season's exhibitions at the Art Center all include works of assemblage and collage while an ambitious schedule of workshops and classes empower the creative urge.

In This House That I Call Home
Through March 15*

Pajaro Valley Arts Council, 37 Sudden St, Watsonville.; 831.722.3062

Fourteen artists tasked themselves with turning Pajaro's Victorian home-turned-gallery back into a home again--but a home reinterpreted. The dining room table is set for eight, each place offering a digital player with recordings of stories told around the table during 10 dinner parties held by Kathleen and Bill Croscetti. Curtains of large dreamlike photographic transparencies by Janet Fine cover the windows with images summoned by the stories. The autobiography of Croscetti's grandfather is the wallpaper; framed portraits of the dinner party friends surround the table. For Croscetti, this intimate exchange of personal stories is the essence of home. Jody Alexander and Laura Laura collaborated on the office of the "Lone Arranger," organizing dense, obsessive collections of old typewriters, Rorschach tests, vials of hair, dental impressions, microfiche, historic photographs--collections so diverse and quirky that a visitor during the packed opening reception exclaimed, "These are just too fascinating, I have to come back!" That goes for the whole show. Jane Gregorius and Janet Fine co-curated this brilliantly conceived collaboration.

Lucien Kubo: Narratives & Dialogues: Personal, Community & Global and Kirby Scudder: Five Years of Environmental Popular Construction
Through March 22*

Dead Cow Gallery, 1040 River St., Santa Cruz and Mill Gallery, 131 Front St., Santa Cruz.; 831.464.8845

Activist artists whose work often draws attention to local and global issues, Kubo and Scudder share the two galleries. Kubo, in lyrical assemblages that sometimes carry a scathing message, uses objects with deeply personal meaning to comment on war, tyranny and the hardships and delights of her Japanese-American heritage. Scudder's community-based art has drawn attention to the need for the Tannery Art Center (his "KowHaus" series), drawn a community together in the name of peace (Night Light) and chewed on the issue of the ruination of the earth's oceans (Widening Gyre).

On the Wall & Off the Wall
Through March 22*

Felix Kulpa Gallery & Sculpture Garden, 107 Elm St., Santa Cruz. felixkulpa .com; 831. 373.2854

Elm Street: it sounds so mid-America, so sheltered, so square, but strollers who find themselves drawn through the quirky "fortress of steel" entryway with the promise of weird visual delights within will find themselves arrived at the FOUND OBJECT ART WORLD HEADQUARTERS--or so they claim, and I believe them. In the hands of artist/curator/gallery manager Robbie Shoen, garden shovels become electric guitars, telephone booths become fountains and no object is safe from reuse for a higher purpose. Shoen, Lucien Kubo and Susan Vaughan assembled the show that also includes Rocky Wagers, "Cornflake," Al Frisbee III, Michael Leeds, Coeleen Kiebert, Darryl Ferrucci and Jack Howe.

Assemblage + Collage + Construction and Jerry Ross Barrish: Take Two
Through April 5*

Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz.; 831.429.1964

Three floors of galleries are filled to the tipping point by 300-plus works, each made of several--some of thousands--of individual objects. Approachable, fun, stimulating and thought-provoking, these works offer windows into the unbridled creative force summoned by 104 artists at play within their personal unconscious. There are monumental works, like the 28-feet-wide "tree pile" collage of torn National Geographic magazines by Georgia artist Tom Nakashima; and poignant pieces, like Rose Sellers' life-size "Punching Bag," whose prim Peter Pan-collared full-length volumetric dress of wire mesh rocks, when pushed, causing little slips of paper with apologies for beatings flutter around inside; or obsessive, like Robert Larson's found cigarette packages used as the grid architecture within which he creates gorgeous tonalist works. The sparest, tiniest box in the exhibition is made by assemblage "giant" Ray Johnson. Curator Susan Hillhouse has created a packed funhouse for the imagination, saying, "I want the museum to feel like one big Cornell box, packed with treasures."

In the third floor gallery, Jerry Ross Barrish: Take Two focuses on this San Francisco artist who uses the most worthless plastic garbage which he collects from the shoreline in front of his Pacifica home to construct revealing character studies, even room-size tableaux.

Two MAH satellite exhibitions also curated by Hillhouse:

American Collage
Through April 12

Vinocruz, 725 Front St. (Entrance on Abbott Square), Suite 101, Santa Cruz.; 831.426.8466

Collage at the Louden Nelson Center
April 1-30

Louden Nelson Center, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz.; 831.420.6183

Piecing It Together: Collage as Therapy
Through March 29*

Michaelangelo Gallery, 1111 River St., Santa Cruz. www.michaelangelo; 831.426.5500

Reiko Michisaki discovered collage while working with a therapist to deal with deeply repressed emotions related to a childhood trauma. Often inspired by strong images that occur in dreams, Michisaki goes through magazines, tearing out pictures that appeal to her, then pieces the images together in intriguing compositions that, to the artist, seem like dreams "because dreams are so jumbled and disconnected and have an element of time. I try to tap into the subconscious and let these images come out freely. Sometimes I don't understand what they mean." Michaelangelo Gallery's Angelo Grova was "very moved" when he saw this body of work by his former student.

Some Assembly Required: Race, Gender And Globalization
Through April 18.
Reception: Feb. 4, 5pm, and April 15, 7pm

UCSC Sesnon Gallery, Porter College, University of California, Santa Cruz.; 831.459.3606

Curator Shelby Graham squeezed an ambitious theme into a tiny gallery space where powerful stories are told and history and culture examined through keyholes of race, gender and culture. Gaza Bowen, a recently deceased local artist, cobbled exquisitely crafted shoes packing a powerful narrative kick that won her a place in art history. Here also is Bowen's more reflective work sorting gentler stories out of the Santa Cruz midden. Douglas McClellan retired from teaching but not from creating complex, personal and formal assemblage works. Willie Little of North Carolina sorts through the iconography of the Jim Crow South, whereas mother Betye and daughter Alison Saar chew on more universal experience of women and suppression.

Making and Remaking the Altered Print
Feb. 6-April 30*

Chocolate, 1522 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.; 831.420.1928

The printmaking process prefigured the magic of PhotoShop by offering artists the means to piece together, alter and reuse existing artworks to create new works. Bridget Henry is a master and teacher of woodblock printmaking. Her own figurative narrative works and prints by Ann Altstatt and Paul Rangell demonstrate the chine collé and other collage techniques.

Feb. 23-April 30
Reception: March 6, 5-9pm

Santa Cruz County Bank Arts Collaborative, Capitola, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, and Watsonville Branches.; 831.457.5000

Few banks employ their own curator, but this repository of Santa Cruz County's financial and cultural wealth is serious about growing creative capital. Curator Joan Blackmer selected art created from recycled or found materials, "showing the transformative process as an artist picks up an object and puts new life into it." Find herein works of whimsy and nostalgia, stories told by juxtaposition and illusion by Jody Alexander, Rick Carpenter, John Chappell, Betty Linderman, Ann Morhauser, Philo Northrup, Nora Sakissian, Daniella Woolf, Robert Larson and Roy Holmberg. One work by Daniella Woolf seems particularly apropos: a giant encaustic collage of her mother's checks.

Altogether: Collage and Assemblage
March 6-April 3
Reception: March 14, 3-5pm

Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz.; 831.426.5787

Nearly 350 works were entered in this national juried exhibition, a huge response even by Art League standards. There was no requirement that the artist be a professional. The exhibition was open to those who may only ever have made one artwork: the apotheosis of a welder's or a stitcher's craft or the culmination of years of collecting. A few of such pieces are exhibited, along with collage and assemblage by artists well known for other art forms, working on their wild side. I was the juror of this exhibition, which is a fascinating snapshot of current work by artists nationwide.

3x3: three artists--three installations
March 13-April 24
Reception: March 12, 4:30-6:30pm

Cabrillo Gallery, Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Dr., Room 1002, Aptos.; 831.479.6308

Three artists were invited by curators Tobin Keller and Rose Sellery to engage with the specific space of the gallery to create new works. Jack Howe (whom Keller describes as "Cornell meets Kienholtz") draws on his collection of old dolls and other figures to build a space with the feeling of ritual. Just what ritual exactly isn't clear, but the dolls take on a creepy presence. Philo Northrup metamorphizes new vibrant realities for old toys, trophies, castoffs by reorganizing their meaning, juxtaposing and coloring them differently to achieve a feeling of narrative and mysterious logic just beyond grasp. Ruth Boerefijn's delicate tendrils of wire and strings and fragments connects everything, softly.

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