Lexington Hills, one of the many gated communities cropping up in the increasingly attractive real estate of Ventura County, sits on a curvaceous plot of land in the eastern outback of Thousand Oaks.
Large houses, in varying stages of completion, sit on ample plots of land. All is quiet in the formative stages of this development. It's a fine time to visit a sculpture garden.
When Minneapolis-based developers Norman and Stuart Ackerberg, a father-and-son team, began mapping out the Lexington Hills project, they decided to go beyond the customary placement of a token sculpture or monument. A collector himself, Ackerberg commissioned several site-specific pieces as an integral part of the development.
The sculpture here, to the credit of its owner, has an aesthetic presence that transcends what we think of as faceless corporate artwork that can be an eyesore by virtue of its intended anonymity and harmlessness.
Finding contemporary sculptures placed within the confines of a gated community makes for a disorienting encounter of a fascinating kind. This kind of display--a private sculpture garden for limited public consumption--is one valid way of bypassing the bureaucratic hurdles with which public art often has to contend.
It's hard to view the art without reflecting on the surroundings. The illusion of domesticity here is still a work-in-progress. Tractors, dirt and the indigenous dry brush are everywhere. Rabbits and squirrels--even the occasional road runner--seem to flock to the little patches of green grass around the sculptures.
The challenge for developers is to create an idyllic fantasy, as if to defy the arid reality of the geographical neighborhood. Just beyond the development are natural hillsides, on which the only source of green are the cacti.
Rural amenities are all around--a winding loop of a road, wooden fences, a horse trail threading everywhere, a man-made lake/pond with a fountain in the middle. It adds up to a fabricated, domesticated bucolic pocket.
Overlooking the lake, there sits Guy Dill's "Penninsula," featuring a semicircle form of galvanized steel. Seen from a certain angle, it perfectly mimics a rounded hill in the distance, while a twisting concrete section reflects the winding road leading up that hill.
At the crest of Nightsky Drive sits the most moving sculpture of the bunch (pun intended). The slightest wind activates Peter Gebhardt's kinetic "Triple Spin" and validates the title of the artwork.
It looks like a futurist's impression of elk's antlers, with arrowheads spinning in the breeze. The entire apparatus atop the pedestal rotates in a complex series of motions.
As with any outdoor sculpture, context is hardly neutral, as it would be in a gallery. Here, Gebhardt's clever exercise in aerodynamics looks down over large fields in the valley below, still agricultural and as yet consumed by housing development. Sprinklers move in their own circular motions on the fertile soil below.
On a clear day, you can see the Reagan Library on a distant hilltop across the valley. For all its Spanish Colonial glory, it still looks like a minimum-security prison.
At almost the highest point in the development is another of the three Dill sculptures, "Dryland II." Here, he repeats the same semicircular form, now bisected by two wedges set at different angles.
The semicircle is painted battleship gray, while the supportive shapes are rough and unfinished, already sporting the residue of life outdoors--rust, dirt and bird business.
Continuing on the path, we come across a writhing, bulbous creation by Erwin Binder, "Breeze of the Past." A Picassoid face and Rodinesque hands are the humanizing elements on an amorphous wind-blown form suggesting a body.
Later, along comes Eugene Jardin's "Lobo Afrique," an Africanized watch wolf figure staring off, suspiciously, in the direction of the Reagan Library.
The final piece--and the final touch in the "garden"--isn't just a roadside attraction like the others. Take a right at Jardin's wolf, walk across the horse path and look down toward the small dam below.
There sits "Dryland I," the last and most impressive piece of Dill's unofficial trilogy. It's situated on a far corner of the property, at the end of the horse path and just above the dam.
Again, the forms are circular, but now with two black mounds intersected by a large silver rectangle. If the circles relate back to the rolling hills that dominate the property, the rectangle could signify the dam spanning the hills.
To extend the metaphor further, the rectangle could stand for functional, industrial intrusion on the landscape. Houses and sculptures, too, can amount to man's attempts to harness the land they adorn and/or invade.
But any such cynical meditations on the nature of development don't really seem to take hold as you meander through this garden of sculptural delights. Admirable in its intentions, the Lexington Hills sculpture garden offers a fine way to confront art in the great outdoors, in an unexpected place.
Heading home, past the agricultural land east of Camarillo, the huge plastic tarps covering the strawberry fields flapped in the breeze and images of Christo leaped to mind. If you're not careful, art can twist your perception of the real world--and the world of real estate. Therein lies the beauty.
SIGHTS BITES: Spotted at the Buenaventura Gallery: Irene Day's cleanly composed but expressively brushed village scenes, and Hanna Lee Hombordy's funky, funny, junk metal sculptural ode to Las Vegas--as if viewed by a Martian circa 1963. The showcased artist this month is the sea-minded Margy Gates, who runs her own gallery in Oxnard. Breezy paintings of sea and beach life are balanced by the concrete artifacts of her ceramic work.
The Frame Seller launches its new exhibition policy with Chris Weber's amiable scenes of Ventura, including a sprawling four-paneled depiction of the Ventura pier.
* WHERE AND WHEN
* The Sculpture Gardens at Lexington Hills, 4905 Moorpark Road, in the Santa Rosa Valley outside of Thousand Oaks. Open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information call 523-8080.
* Margy Gates and other artists at the Buenaventura Gallery, 700 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura. For more information call 648-1235.
* Chris Weber through Aug. 15 at the Frame Seller, 1484 E. Main St. in Ventura. For more information call 648-1071.