Art review: ‘Home Show, Revisited’ at Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum

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The Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum is revisiting its ‘Home Show,’ an ambitious and logistically complicated project in which artists are commissioned to create new works in private homes around the city, and the public is invited to drop in for a look.

Its first ‘Home Show’ was held in 1988, the second in 1996. Now as then, participation obviously requires a somewhat intrepid and adventurous resident, although the benefits of such patronage are equally clear: How often does one get to engage an artist in a commission?

Home Show, Revisited’ continues with two more three-day weekend showings through July 17. Ten L.A.-based artists were invited to consider social and cultural meanings of home, a directive they interpreted quite loosely. Their works are installed in and around nine houses located from the northern suburbs of Santa Barbara to the south, through Montecito and Carpinteria. The neighborhoods range from modest to grand.

On a recent afternoon I was able to visit about half the projects, plus the video installation by artist Michele O’Marah, co-curator of ‘Home Show, Revisited,’ at the CAF’s gallery space upstairs in downtown’s Paseo Nuevo shopping mall. (CAF Director Miki Garcia was the other curator.) A stop at CAF is required first, so that home visitors can register, sign a liability release and pick up the necessary map and project summary, plus get a wristband that lets volunteers at the home sites know you haven’t just wandered in off the street.


My advice: Unless you know Santa Barbara well, bring a GPS unit if you have one, especially if you don’t have a navigator in your vehicle’s passenger seat. The printed directions are OK, but they’re also basic. The map can’t account for unexpected street closures and will leave an out-of-towner to pull over often to check progress. A useful feature is small photographs of the home facades.

O’Marah’s installation uses television to bring together the show’s two principal parts -- art and home. Her ongoing series of ‘Video Portraits’ chronicle more than 150 early 21st century artists working in L.A. The piece employs period style: Short videos of individual head shots play on 23 boxy TV sets -- many of them ‘girlie pink’ and no sleek flat-screens allowed -- plus five projection screens.

The format obviously updates Andy Warhol’s mid-1960s ‘Screen Tests,’ silent black-and-white films of the artist’s friends and hangers-on seeking roles in Warhol movies. (A 1964 example of a Warhol ‘Screen Test’ is currently on view in ‘Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective,’ at the UCLA Hammer Museum.) O’Marah’s color videos are similarly silent, but they have fun with artistic conventions.

The television sets are placed on the floor, rather than on furniture, to insist that they’re sculptures. They also face the row of five suspended projection screens across the darkened room, creating a wry and subtle stand-off between TV and movies.

As with Warhol, nothing much happens. Mostly O’Marah’s heads stay stock-still, with some subjects seeming to consider the video-shoot an endurance test.

A few artists seem pained by the experience. Occasionally a hand rises to brush aside a forelock, or eyes glance to the side as if distracted by something unseen in the room. One subject munches on a cookie. Another gets rambunctious, pulling out a cell-phone camera to record the video camera recording her.

Overall, the images are slow (O’Marah cut the actual recorded speed of her portraits by a third), silent and undramatic -- which is to say, entirely contrary to the fast, noisy and sensational pictures typically encountered on commercial television. Faces periodically fade, before the video loop begins again. It’s like a TV show getting canceled, or a little media-death in the family of artists.

Unexpectedly, the video portraits become a quiet meditation on mortality, both human and technological. The floor-bound display of clunky TV sets assumes the calm tranquility of a graveyard.

Of the home installations I saw, the strangest is Evan Holloway’s ‘Steaming Hot Modern Sculpture.’ On two burners of a vintage O’Keefe & Merritt stove in a bungalow kitchen, he mounted two models of a white-walled art gallery displaying generic Modern sculptures. (Think Alexander Calder or Ibram Lassaw). The models are made of copper. Turn on the burners, heat up the models like frying pans and spray them with water to hear the sizzle and watch the steam rise.

The stove and the generic sculptures date from a time when ambitions for both domestic bliss and sculpture where rather more Utopian than they are today, as the American middle-class unravels and Modern art cooks in a commercial marketplace. The sudden evaporation caused by Holloway’s overheated models is a bizarre yet oddly affecting metaphor.

Two projects defer to the perseverance of homegrown art. As a homage to a local 1960s garage band, Florian Morlat attached a pair of modest, spindly sculptures to the top of a chimney, where they look like a cross between a graphic depiction of rising smoke and a pair of legs wearing Beatles-era boots and gaily diving in. Ry Rocklin made a checkerboard mosaic floor from 55 found paintings, cement and faux-finish paint, and he installed it in a room that doubles as a domestic gallery for the display of decorative wall mosaics made for sale by the local artist-homeowner. Morlat’s and Rocklin’s works are well-considered but finally thin.

The most engaging installation I encountered never got inside the house. Bettina Hubby opted instead for the tensions between public display and private interests, permanent residence and the nomadic experience undertaken by the artist -- as well as by any visitor on the home tour.

In the driveway, Hubby installed a portable storage unit, its open front door screened by a silk curtain printed with a large photograph of the contents of her own storage unit in Los Angeles. (It contains nothing special, just the usual assortment of personal stuff.) The printed-curtain format continues on the house, where six windows are covered with hangings that show photographs of the artist indoors -- looking in a mirror after a bath, playing with a jigsaw puzzle, making notes while surrounded by stacks of books and other mundane domestic activities.

The curtains make the actual domestic interior, already private, seem even more remote. But Hubby’s subjects aren’t as bland as they might seem. Her photographic compositions reveal themselves slowly.

The bather claims a long tradition in art, often as a remnant of paradise lost. The jigsaw puzzle tries to pull together a coherent picture from shattered pieces. The books compile a poignant list of titles for the work’s suburban context: Jonathan Franzen’s satiric novel of family upheavals, ‘The Corrections’; Italo Calvino’s urban sojourn, ‘Invisible Cities’; the morbid metaphysical erotics of Georges Bataille’s ‘Story of the Eye,’ and more.

Hubby’s shroud of curtains comprises a kind of domestic mural. Standing in the front yard looking at the house, you’re likely to catch a glimpse of yourself also living there.

Home Show, Revisited’ also includes works by Piero Golia, Kori Newkirk, Jennifer Rochlin, Kirsten Stoltmann, Stephanie Taylor and Jennifer West. They’re on view Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., through July 17. MORE ART REVIEWS:

Carol Selter at Charlie James Gallery

Mark Leonard at Louis Stern Fine Arts

Rosha Yaghmai at Thomas Solomon Gallery

--Christopher Knight, from Santa Barbara