SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Momentum Moves : The respected gallery relocates 100 yards away and opens with a show by Hiroko Yoshimoto.

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Scarcely a month after the V2 Gallery opened its doors in the Livery Arts Center in Old Town Ventura, there is more pressing art scene news from the Palm Street complex. The Momentum Gallery, the most reliable forum in the area for art discourse, has moved.

About 100 yards, to be exact.

Finishing touches are still under way in the Momentum's new, expanded space. Upstairs offices are being hammered into place. The sprawling gallery footage itself is blissfully naked, existing only for art's sake.

There is still a comforting, funky, fringe quality to the space, but now with exposed wood rafters overhead instead of the old space's corrugated metal roof. Have no fear: The Momentum hasn't gone high-tech.

A strong sense of spatial identity already hums in this historic space, which was originally used as a livery and carriage house beginning in 1875. The building's dramatic facade facing Palm Street is a fanfare of brick, a surface that has become exotic by its rarity in town.

Blame--and thanks--for the move go to the rains. After flooding problems occurred in the old Momentum space this winter, the Ventura Arts Council (the Momentum's operating body) began pondering a change in venue.

"That's what got this whole train of thought going," explained Arts Council Director Laura Zucker. "We got to thinking 'we're going to have to relocate somewhere temporarily. But if we're going to relocate, why should it be temporary?' "

They had only to walk over to the current space, which until last year housed the Palm Street Gallery. "We came over and looked at it," she said, "and it was real clear to us that this could be a dynamite space."

Partitions were removed, creating the wide-open spaces of the new gallery. Hiroko Yoshimoto's inaugural show, composed mostly of large canvases, nicely illustrates the virtues of the gallery's wide open space.

As Zucker said, "I think this space is going to change the way we're curating the kind of work we're thinking about putting in, because we can accommodate large pieces."

The ample space, for example, is conducive to sculpture exhibition. There are also plans for a renewed emphasis on performing arts.

"One of the reasons we were really interested in this space was that, although it really isn't all that much bigger, the configuration is completely different," said Zucker. "The old space, being long and narrow, was not very conducive to performance activities.

"This space, we feel, is going to be great, for everything from what the Arcade Poetry Society is already doing with their readings to presentations of performance art and small musical ensembles."

What the new space also affords the Momentum Gallery is a focal presence on the street, and greater visibility from Main Street, the main artery half a block away.

"If we can develop the right signage over the front--and we're thinking of something very large and neon right now--we're going to be able to pull people from Main Street into the Livery. That has been a classic problem with the Livery."

The New Momentum is a vital sign of the downtown arts consciousness that has been building in the last few years.

"I think we see this as an interim step to the creation of a contemporary arts center in Ventura," Zucker said. "It's going to enable us to develop the programming that one would want to see in such a center."

GARDEN OF DELIGHTS: Yoshimoto's exhibition, under the title "The Garden," is a fitting housewarming affair for the new space. Yoshimoto is a longtime Ventura resident who teaches at Ventura College and is known for her studio art as well as her elaborate stage sets.

Last fall, her fanciful sets provided the backdrop for "The Unicorn" at Ventura College. But she demonstrated a more intimate sensibility in a fine show of quotidian observations, close-up views from around the house, at the Buenaventura Gallery last year.

"The Garden" combines elements of both aspects of her work. The thematically linked series, which plays off double-edged references to the Garden of Eden as a fragile paradise, is dedicated to the late Eve Molesworth, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Yoshimoto's "Eve series" involves large, brightly colored paintings, while her "Sarastro's Garden" series is comprised of three-dimensional, vividly painted constructions that seem poised for flight off the gallery walls.

Smaller ink-on-paper pieces in a far corner of the space present a sparer point of view.

In her 3-D pieces, Yoshimoto seems eager to bust out of the rectilinear canvas box with uninhibited gestures out of the Frank Stella school. She manages to defy the flat-planed neutrality of the gallery wall.

But then again, her gregarious palette is hardly neutral or conceptually cool. Her works are bolstered by contrasting bolts of color--often primary color--and compositions that are dense yet confident.

Despite the floral subtext here, visual exertions of abstract expressionism bubble below the surface of these paintings through the complex interplay of irregular forms. "12," in particular, successfully fuses the elements which go into her work.

An atypically ominous image, "29, Tree of Knowledge" is a vision of yellow and orange choked by a black smoky plumage. The knowledge in question seems to be apocalyptic. Biblical readings here are hard to escape.

Yoshimoto's show makes for an auspicious launching of the new gallery. Good stuff plus a good space equals a good show all-around.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Hiroko Yoshimoto's "The Garden," through July 4 at the Momentum Gallery, 34 N. Palm St. in Ventura. For more information, call 653-0828.

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