The Arts

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On the Walls

Shorts, thoughts and bits on North Bay art.

By Gretchen Giles

On a beautiful late summer Sunday afternoon, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art packed a crowd into its modern indoor gloom. Nibbling on chicken satay sticks, fresh spring roll wraps and sipping the museum's own brand of wine, hundreds of people massed in to hear sculptor Linda Fleming give a personal tour of her one-woman retrospective, "Refugium," showing through Oct. 21.

The 52nd exhibit since the SVMA opened its doors 10 years ago, "Refugium" gathers together 30 years of the sculptor's work, including the drawings and maquettes that precede the birth of a full-fledged three-dimensional piece. Large-scale steel sculpture that is characterized by lacey, curvy, biomorphic design that both grants and denies access, Fleming's work is informed by science and cosmology. Her own home furniture is scattered throughout, allowing visitors the opportunity to relax in a comfortable living room chair while contemplating the work. Fleming variously referred to her sculpture as being "smokelike," "sinuous, vaporlike constructions" and "cosmological structures," and described how they, coupled with the comfy chairs, are intended to evoke that moment when one is at home and naturally enough begins to contemplate the particulate structure of the universe. "These are diagrams of thoughts that you might be having in your regular life," she instructed.Not everyone was thinking such lofty thoughts. Some of us began to wonder how it is that the SVMA can regularly command such a crowd smack amid a gorgeous Sunday packed with other pleasures on the North Bay's calendar. Their own wine label, their lavish food, the Sonoma Palette appetizers cookbook that the museum is due to release on Oct. 4, the impressive effort of mounting a serious retrospective of a living, nationally acclaimed artist like Fleming: Why is such good cultural news happening in the Sonoma Valley and where is the rest of it? SVMA, 551 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.939.7862.

The Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, opened last month in the newly reclaimed Hamilton Field area, has been paying attention. Marin MOCA has gone so far as to snag the assistance of Sonoma painter Chester Arnold, a College of Marin instructor who was influential in the birth of the SVMA, an institution that has clearly kept its supporters engaged and excited—a decade-long experiment that the Marin MOCA is avid to emulate. "People are frustrated that, in the richest county in the U.S., they don't have a fine arts museum," Arnold says. (Not strictly true, as the very wonderful Bolinas Museum has heretofore been the only fine arts museum in Marin, a great distinction—if, of course, you can find it.)

Begun modestly in 1991 by the 11 members of what was then the Indian Valley Artists collective, the group changed in 2005 to become the Arts League of Northern California. Already charged by the city of Novato to spearhead an arts renaissance in northern Marin, the League pondered the future. "We were already doing the criteria for a noncollecting museum," says volunteer Ronile Valenza of her group's leap from collective to institution, "and we thought, why not just do it?" Their first exhibit as the Marin MOCA, a national juried show, ends Sept. 23. Their second formal show, "Re-Newal," a national encaustic exhibit juried by Santa Rosa painter Bob Nugent, opens Sept. 29. Marin MOCA, 500 Palm Drive, Hamilton Field, Novato. 415.506.0137.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Museum, reeling from the recent health-related resignation of well-regarded executive director Ariege Arsguel, gears up for its new exhibits, "Obsession: Art and Artifacts from Sonoma County Private Collections" and, in the project space, "Be(e)ing," an installation by Napa apiarist and artist Rob Keller, both opening Sept. 22. The main exhibit is designed and installed by Napa artist Lewis DeSoto (himself featured at the Di Rosa Preserve's "3 X 3" show through Sept. 22) and draws from 15 private collections ranging from Henry and Holly Wendt's antique cartography cache previously hung at the museum to Civil War artifacts, Native American walrus ivory carvings, Ansel Adams photos, Petaluma artist David Best's funk works, hair from Abraham Lincoln's fatal head wound and more. The idea of the exhibit is that the private obsessions of those who long to amass reveals something that is both personal and universal, involves the desire to instill order in an otherwise chaotic world and reflects the compulsion to find higher truths in small acts.

Keller plans to use the museum's former vault to install a Victorian model dollhouse filled with bees that freely vents to the outdoors through a tube. Given the museum's "Where Land Meets Art" ethos, Keller works to reflect the interdependence between humans and the hard-working pollinators who sustain us, allowing visitors to have a better understanding of the marvelously complex apiarian world. Sonoma County Museum, 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. 707.579.1500.

Also collector-driven, the spanking-brand- new SRJC Art Gallery kicks off the semester with an unusual gathering of textiles from Central Asia and Turkey loaned by area owners. "From Tent to Palace" opens Oct. 4 and is co-curated by SRJC instructor Donna Larsen with San Francisco State humanities professor Carel Bertram. The exhibit will not only encourage flat-out admiration for the handiwork on display, but illustrate what a bride might bring to her husband's yurt or what the use of paisley means to different peoples across the Asian diaspora. SRJC Art Gallery, Frank P. Doyle Library, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.527.4298.

Short List

Other exhibits that have got us thinking

Painter Richard Standard tackles nothing less than the I-Ching with his new series, "Order out of Chaos," opening Sept. 24 at the Pelican Art Gallery. Using Heisenberg's uncertainty principle as his model, Standard takes the horizontal plane forward and backward, referencing Mark Rothko and obscuring and allowing sight in a stirring geometry of emotion. . . .

Emerging artists Frank Ryan and Allen Marshall, both recent graduates of Sonoma State University, share a love of narrative painting that flirts with illustration but pulls back just at the right moment. They show at the A Street Gallery through Oct. 27. 312 South A St., Santa Rosa. 707.578.9124. . . .

We are piqued by the work of Native American historian Frank LaPena, who opens his multimedia show "There Is No Dance Without a Song" on Sept. 22 at the Hammerfriar Gallery (see image, p40). LaPena explains his approach and the mythology he draws upon when drawing on Oct. 5. 139 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.473.9600. . . . The Northern California Center for the Photographic Arts makes its first foray on Sept. 20 featuring a cross-section of fine art photographers. Visionary Glen Graves expects to establish a permanent gallery space and a teaching center in the North Bay for the photographic arts. The initial show is slated for the Energy Plus Lighting and Design, 999 Airway Court, Santa Rosa. . . .

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts sponsors a "block party" on Oct. 4 from 6pm to 8pm that includes Sculpture Jam—now in its 10th year—new work "Drawing the Line" at the library and the wood furniture of designer Carol Vena-Mondt at her eponymous gallery. For details, go to . . .

The Di Rosa Preserve hosts its annual fundraising auction Moon Proof Madness on Oct. 20 and gears up for winter with a remarkable one-woman exhibit by sculptor Gay Outlaw opening Nov. 3 that promises to be the must-see exhibit of the winter. . . . The must-see exhibit of right now remains the Masami Teraoka exhibit at the SSU Art Gallery, a shatteringly excellent 40-year retrospective. Check these pages next week for your how-to cheat-sheet on "reading" the Teraoka show.

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