In its current location, a block above the Byzantine Oaks shopping complex, the Conejo Valley Art Museum is not long for this world. The city of Thousand Oaks has sold its building, eviction is imminent and a new, as-yet-undisclosed location is pending.
The museum may be in a state of limbo, but the current exhibitions--a swan song for the present space--are as inviting and uncommercial as ever.
Between “Kinetic-Aesthetic Push-Button Wizardry,” Dave Quick’s kooky kinetic junk assemblages, and “A Visual Review of Performable Work,” artifacts from Judith Von Euer’s multimedia projects, the current shows provide a fitting “temporary farewell” to this small museum with big, offbeat ideas.
Avoiding conventionality, the museum has, in the past, presented a neon art show and a laser/holography show, along with the wide-ranging recent print show, “Durer to Rauschenberg.” There’s something poetic in the fact that, up here on Wilbur Road, a stone’s throw from the department store capital of the Western World, oddball art has found a patch of suitable soil. If only for the moment.
Setting foot into the museum’s main gallery this month, viewers instantly find themselves in a strange dimension of sight, sound and motion. Quick’s fanciful strap-on contraptions--one-man-band whirligigs designed to be worn in Pasadena’s absurdist Doo Dah Parade--occupy the center of the space. Mannequins crashing into cymbals, a scraped washboard and revolving rubber chickens are but a few of the appealing features of these parade-friendly Dada doodads.
The kinetically minded Quick, whose “day job” is in the administrative end of a Los Angeles museum, imposes elaborate engineering on some decidedly funky materials, producing frequently wry art that “works.” That is, the pieces are activated with the push of a button or the twist of a handle. The real meat of his exhibition is the line of machine-operated boxes on the gallery walls, begging for viewer activation.
Junk and happenstance--the disposable matter and info of our throwaway culture--are critical aspects in Quick’s art. Aside from building his work from found materials (“He’s got a garage that won’t quit,” reports museum Director Ginger Worthly), Quick apparently scans the newspapers for inspiration.
A sports page triggered the wacky “Watch Out Vince,” concerning a freak accident wherein St. Louis Cardinal Vince Coleman tripped on the Astroturf. “Mishap at the Surf Museum” apparently sprang from a Los Angeles Times news item--posted on the wall--about surf rock king Dick Dale’s guitar having been stolen from Orange County’s Surf Museum. The item gave rise to Quick’s elaborate motorized assemblage, littered with references to the pilfered guitar, the San Onofre nuclear power plant and surfing lore. Radical.
Art world marketeering gets a left to the temple in Quick’s “Pig Descending a Staircase,” a hilarious ode to Marcel Duchamp’s watershed work of modern art, “Nude Descending a Staircase.” A push of a button invites a plastic pig to be carried down a cheap wooden staircase--hooked by the nose, like the fine artists led to the slaughter of commercialization.
Quick turns his sights on the whitewashing of the American frontier in “Iron Horse,” in which a Native American head (on a plastic Pillsbury Doughboy body) is threatened by a slow-moving train, and a buffalo head rocks back and forth as in a shooting gallery.
The sting of Quick’s art relies on shameless puns and clever tinkering. At the same time, more thought-provoking ideas and themes rise up through the veneer of craftiness. Kitschy fun is Quick’s wont, with allowances for thinly-veiled meaning.
Downstairs in the museum’s other gallery, Judith Von Euer’s “A Visual Review of Performable Work” isn’t nearly so cheeky as Quick’s, but nonetheless has vivacity.
Von Euer, who has been teaching art at Los Angeles Valley College for 20 years, has had a dizzying medium-crossing career as a wind musician, working in jazz and classical, and as a muralist and visual artist. Not surprisingly, then, her work here is all about finding connections, between sound and image, music and theater. What we see in this “visual review” of her work are the visible elements in larger inter-media projects involving music and choreography.
“Four Dances” blends minimalistic grids with choreographic notations, attempting to show rhythm in explicit visual terms. The early ‘80s work “Ornette’s Way,” originally a performance art/opera in tribute to the great jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, here is represented by a series of brightly colored “shields"--puppets originally held by players.
Much as the vibrancy of her visual work speaks for itself, you can’t help but wonder about the missing musical aspect. Is her music Coleman-esque? Her painting is; as with Coleman’s playing, a colorful sense of movement, structural freedom and uninhibited expression are pervasive.
“Grotto Life” is an inter-media work-in-progress, still in the visual stage. Based on primitive graffiti imagery, the pieces mix neo-primitive stick figures a la Keith Haring, as in an imaginary folklore. An accompanying poetic text refers to “an unlikely assortment of coagulated things.” There you have it.
And the same might be said of the museum itself--all dressed up with ideas and eager to go somewhere. But where? More on that story as it develops.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Dave Quick’s “Kinetic-Aesthetic Push-Button Wizardry,” and Judith Von Euer’s “A Visual Review of Performable Work” will be exhibited through Jan. 27 at the Conejo Valley Art Museum at 191 W. Wilbur Road, Thousand Oaks. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call 373-0054.