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denny kelso
Kelley Richardson, 'Seventeen,' black and white photograph, 2010
PARK AND RIDE: Contemporary life in the Golden State gets a closer look in 'CAL IF OR NIA,' opening Monday at the Cabrillo Gallery.

Art of the Scene

Another intriguing visual arts season takes shape

By Maureen Davidson

THERE'LL BE no rest for the visual art consumer in and around Santa Cruz County in the upcoming months. Indeed, the remainder of 2010 is packed with great shows and significant artists. The following represents just a fraction of the season's opportunities.

Robbie Schoen is an awesome one-man band. Quixotic curator, manager and host of the ever-evolving Felix Kulpa Gallery since it was founded at 107 Elm St. in Santa Cruz six years ago, Schoen is also the exhibition designer and installer of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. In Kulpa's large courtyard, Schoen has created a theme park of sculptural works including his own humorously reused telephone booth and melted monitor fountains. A "stable" of artists show regularly. "We give artists a place to evolve over time," he says.

That's been the case with Blaise Rosenthall, whose new grid-based tonal works comprise the elegant "Empire of Dirt" (through Aug. 29). Up next, Russian photographer Alexey Lokhov presents surreal manipulated monochromatic images in "From Russia With Love" (Sept. 3–26). Lokhov will be "present" for the opening via Skype along with Russian food and drink and the regional expat community. In October, a Kulpa favorite, Jake Thomas, returns with "Pogonip Blues" (Oct. 1–24). In November and December, "And Then There Was Light" (Nov. 5–Dec. 26) features experimental neon art by Bruce Suba. The gallery is always abuzz.

The Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery routinely presents big-concept, beautifully mounted exhibitions with powerful local relevance from its small bungalow in Watsonville. This year PVAC celebrated its 25th season, beautified its exterior space and won some prestigious grants to continue collaboration with nearby Sierra Azul Nursery on "Sculpture Is" (through Oct. 31), an extraordinary annual exhibition of outdoor sculpture in Sierra Azul's acres of demonstration gardens. Upcoming is "Los Pájaros" (Sept. 2–Oct. 10), an exhibition of bird-inspired art presented in concert with Watsonville's Monterey Bay Birding Festival, which attracts birders from all over the world. Los Pájaros runs in the PVAC gallery with a reception on Sept. 12, 2–4pm. PVAC also shows bird-related woodcuts by Andrea Rich on the 4th Floor of Watsonville Civic Plaza from Sept. 2 through Oct. 7, with a reception Sept. 24, 5–6:30pm. It's all about local relevance.

At the top of the county, "Abstractions" (through Aug. 31) is a dazzling exhibition of sculpture and wall pieces by a dozen local artists including Susana Arias, Steve Laufer, Marilyn Kuksht, Cecil C. Childress and Ralph Joachim at the Davenport Gallery. A Kuksht steel sculpture just loves being the focal point of the gallery's long view. All flowing curves and airy volume, the approximately 4-foot-tall piece has all the presence of her larger works—many of which she just showed in San Francisco's SomArts Cultural Center Gallery along with the vivid geometric paintings by Joachim and large expressionistic work of Childress, both of whose large paintings hover near her work here too.

Art of higher elevation can be found at Santa Cruz Mountain Arts Center in Ben Lomond, which recently morphed from fine art gallery into a much-needed outlet for sales of fine art and craft by local artists. Significantly expanding its studios, MAC provides art classes for adults and children and a venue for music, poetry and lectures. The upcoming "Ceram-A-Rama" (Sept. 17–19) is a MAC signature event, from its kickoff potluck and ceramics movie on Friday night through Saturday's demonstration workshops with Tom Coleman to Sunday's free hands-on clay sculpture, raku firings and contests. The Center does indeed beat with the burly heart of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Back in the lowlands, First Fridays of each month in Santa Cruz have become a major arts and social event thanks to Kirby Scudder of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Arts. First Friday Art Tours (Sept. 3, Oct. 8, Nov. 5, Dec. 3) began six years ago with a sprinkling of ersatz galleries and a few shops that hung art and offered snacks. Scudder molded the event into a much-anticipated art extravaganza with over 30 participating spaces, a monthly booklet/brochure and much publicity. Many Santa Cruz galleries align their opening receptions with the popular monthly event.

Such is the case for an extraordinary September exhibition mounted at the Mill Gallery in Santa Cruz by Sheila Halligan-Waltz and Eike Waltz. "Sex & City" (Sept. 3–Oct. 1) is what happened when a sculpture by Eike Waltz abstractly depicting a male nude was censored by a too-tender downtown official last year, turning a simmering concern into a boiling necessity for these two artists of social conscience. "Sex & City" is an exhibition of "socio-erotic" art grappling with the hypocrisy of government censorship. "A nude woman can walk in a parade through Santa Cruz streets, yet a realistic nude painting is not considered appropriate for a public building. 'Sex & City' questions how we are programmed and protected," says Waltz. The exhibit is up daily 11am–8pm with the artists in attendance, welcoming discussion.

Visiting with artists could become a habit that continues through the season as the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County presents the 25th Annual Open Studios Art Tour (Oct. 2–3, 9–10, 16–17) over the first three weekends in October, with studios south of the Yacht Harbor open Oct. 2–3, studios north of the Yacht Harbor open Oct. 9–10 and the final Encore Weekend presenting many of both. Open Studios is a destination tourism event as significant for collectors and admirers of the visual arts as for the participating artists who have been selected by a rigorous competitive process. This year a record 320 artists open their studio doors to visitors who have purchased a calendar, which serves as passport and guide map. A commemorative limited edition poster by Liz Lyons Friedman, the only artist who has participated in all 25 years of Open Studios, is launched Sept. 23, 5–7pm, at a signing party at the York Gallery in Santa Cruz. The "Open Studios Preview Exhibition" (Sept. 25–Oct. 17) helps enthusiasts chart a course through three busy weekends by showing representative works from all of the artists at the Santa Cruz Art League galleries, with a reception Sept. 26. 3–6pm.

One reason Open Studios is so important is the limited number of art galleries in Santa Cruz County. That shortage is one of the reasons that Santa Cruz County Bank began to exhibit art on its walls in 2004 when it opened its first location on Soquel Avenue. The exhibitions were inaugurated by a former bank CEO, but Mary Anne Carson, the bank's director of marketing, has always been responsible for making arts exhibitions on bank walls a defining feature of the institution, which now has five locations countywide. The current exhibit, "Places" (through Oct. 12), features black and white images by 10 local photographers in a celebration of travel and adventure. Up next, "Travelogues" (Oct. 25–Dec. 27) features photography by Angie Tan Burns and paintings by Gregory Burns. "This will be the 28th exhibition since we opened the bank in February 2004," says Carson. "All proceeds from sales go directly to the artist."

No doubt Santa Cruz County is home to an unusual number and quality of artists. One of many reasons for this strange quirk in the population makeup is that UCSC and Cabrillo College each have extraordinary arts programs. The galleries at UCSC, the Sesnon Gallery and the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery, maintain ambitious exhibition schedules as part of the university's teaching mission and have been instrumental in solidifying the area's reputation. Cabrillo College plays a different role, employing many local artists as teachers, offering inexpensive and accessible classes and providing top-of-the-line studios and equipment through its new Visual and Performing Arts campus. Cabrillo Gallery consistently exhibits provocative work. "CAL IF OR NIA" (Aug. 30–Sept. 24) shows the work of 33 California artists as selected by Ruth Braunstein and Shannon Trimble of the prestigious Braunstein/Quay Gallery in San Francisco. A reception is Sept. 12, 3–5pm. A second Cabrillo show, "Visibly Invisible: Artists Working With Transgendered Themes" (Sept. 30–Oct. 29), features powerful photographs, video, film, paintings, drawings and installations on the subject of gender and personal transformation. A reception kicks things off Sept. 30, 5–7pm.

Transformation is the work of artists. The job of the Museum of Art & History is to be the mothership of visual arts in the county. MAH currently shows three exhibitions on the theme of paper. "It's in the Pulp: The Art of Papermaking in Santa Cruz" (through Nov. 21) commemorates the period in the 1970s when Garner Tullis' International Institute of Experimental Printmaking in Santa Cruz became the epicenter for hand papermaking as a fine art process. Artists like Louise Nevelson, Nathan Oliviera and Laddie John Dill worked here; artists like Charles Hilger and John Babcock and Madeline de Joly stayed; locally Jody Alexander, Susana Arias and Bonnie Britton continue to use handmade paper as a medium. Works by these and other artists demonstrate the scope of this fine art medium.

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