In looking at the developments and general texture of the Ventura County art scene in 1996, it seems as though it was a year when most of the action took place in out-of-the-way places.
On a very basic level, the county's art scene is an out-of-the-way place. This is partly due to the geographical and social lay of the land in a county so spread out and multifaceted. Still, it's true that art watchers had to go out of their way to find art this year.
Who would have thought, for example, that art could find a happy home in the former women's holding facility (a.k.a. jail) in the concrete slab of a third-floor space in Ventura City Hall? The temporary, city-sponsored Third Floor Gallery, with stunning views of the town and sea spread out below it, hosted a few shows.
Its future is uncertain, and if it were to become a steady fixture, the gallery would have to be renovated and provided with suitable hanging capabilities and creature comforts.
In another remote corner of town, a new space opened that has to qualify as Gallery of the Year. Jim and Cathi Nye's Gallery One One One may be far from the Main Street aorta, tucked away at 111 Dos Caminos, next to the old Sidecar Cafe and just up the street from the Bandar. But its aesthetic sensibility is a model of what can happen here. The work was, in the main, contemporary and energized.
Gallery One One One's focus hasn't necessarily been on local artists, but on emerging young artists from near and far--from a show of Cuban Underground artists curated by William Hendricks to fine shows of work by Tahir and of Tom Nordstrom's vigorous "bullet-hole paintings."
The Nyes also set up an annex gallery in the performance space in the Livery in Ventura, featuring Julie Knudson's challenging installation piece "Limbo."
Ventura College's two galleries can be counted on for fine work, brought in mostly from other parts of California, this year including Polly Victor, Tim Jag and the show "Drawing Investigations."
Art worth seeing also pops up in the administration building of the Ventura County Government Center, where the highlights of this year's crop included painter Lynn Morley, a show of works from the art therapy program at Camarillo State Hospital, and the raw charms of work by Dakoth F-B.
The Ventura art world is a busy one, but it can also tend to be fragmented, broken into enclaves of artists who stick together. The tidily outfitted Buenaventura Gallery, for example, shows often interesting but generally conservative works by members of the Buenaventura Art Assn., while funkier provocations can often be seen at Art City II, comfortably nestled on the edge of town. A retrospective from Art City founder Paul Lindhard closed the year there.
In Ojai, the artists who wind up at the Ojai Arts Center shows aren't often those found in Gayel Childress' gallery, whose space featured fine shows by J. Thompson, Frank Lauran, Gretchen Greenberg and Carole Tapolian, among others.
Then there are the new galleries, such as the Carlton, and those with specific interests. Leslie Clarke, whose elaborate paintings reflect her intrigue with indigenous Africans and her wanderlust, opened a space for her works and ethnic artifacts.
In other Ojai arts news, Ojai legend Beatrice Wood had a show at the Ojai Center for the Arts last spring, celebrating her 103 years on the planet, with some recent drawings on display. The wry artist, best known for her ceramic works and her historical-romantic link to Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement, remains the spiritual heart of Ojai's art community.
While it presents only a few shows per year, the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, in all of its neoclassical architectural splendor, is a reliably impressive destination for art watching in the county. This year's list of shows included a fascinating exhibition of Mexican tin works, and photography of Marion Post Wolcott and George Hurrell.
The Ventura Museum of History and Art continued with its dual identity, as stated in the institution's name. Curator Tim Schiffer has put admirable energy and integrity into the art exhibits that do show up there, including the annual "Assembly of the Arts" group show and photography by early Venturan John Calvin Brewster.
Ventura County's art scene may be out of the way, but it's ours. And in 1996, like most years, there were some pleasant surprises.