As urban areas go, the San Fernando Valley has--if not always flair--a particular epic sprawl.
Likewise, the Valley's art gallery scene is anything but concentrated. Whereas galleries tend to group together in other parts of the city--as in Santa Monica--in the Valley, art is where you can find it. And, with a little persistence, there was a healthy amount to be found in 1996, sprinkled throughout the region. The Valley won't be mistaken for a thriving art haven, but neither is it a wasteland in terms of visual culture. Some of its worthiest art venues are the most difficult to get to.
The Century Gallery in Sylmar, located at Mission College, tends to present ambitious, theme-driven group shows. This year's list included "New Social Commentary," "Into the Plane" and last month's elemental, cautionary show called "Earth, Air, Fire, Water."
Perhaps the finest of all art spaces around these parts is on the eastern edge of Glendale, in the Brand Library. Here a spacious gallery and fine lighting blend with a high caliber of art to create a model art venue. A few highlights from Brand's 1996 work: the anecdotal paintings of folk-art-like storyteller Alex Ross, Ani Kupelian's mammoth sculpture "Trespass," Dean Andrews' elegant minimalist paintings, and Marina Moevs' coyly sinister images of houses in peril.
Not far away, you find challenging art exhibitions at Woodbury University's gallery, which included this fall's subtle drawing show by German Jochen Stucke. On the opposite end of the Valley, now just across the San Diego Freeway from the Skirball Center, is the University of Judaism, whose Platt Gallery hosted several fine shows in '96, including Peter Shire's "No Lack of Angels."
At Cal State Northridge is the "art dome," a temporary post-quake space that houses intriguing shows. The Pierce College gallery, too, periodically hosts good art, as does the Finegood Art Gallery of the Bernard Milken Community Campus.
Of course, academic galleries enjoy a cushion of institutional support that private commercial galleries lack, which inevitably makes the private gallery scene vulnerable. One unfortunate casualty of the lean atmosphere for art in the area was Burbank's Mythos Gallery, which presented several powerful shows in the past year--including Ron Pippin and Brad Burkhart--but succumbed to inertia.
The small, second-story Granados 2 Gallery, virtually hidden away above a restaurant in Atwater Village, is an ongoing inspiration. Run by Javier Granados, the space in '96 featured plenty of bold art, including Kenzio Shiokaya's nature-oriented sculpture and VinZula's urban hieroglyphics.
Then there is the venerable Orlando Gallery, which continues to enjoy a long life on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. The exhibits there tend to be both provocative and accessible, as seen this year in the wry work of George Tapley and art by Gloria Moses and Jenik Cook.
One of the Orlando's most ambitious shows of 1996 was last month's "Twelve Catholics, Present, Former and Waffling." Gallery owner and artist Bob Gino asked a dozen Catholics of all attitudes to consider their relationship to their religion--or former religion, as the case may be. The result was a diverse blend of pieces in two and three dimensions, which, surprisingly, avoided either easy sacrilegious potshots or unblinking, passionate meditations.
Also along Ventura Boulevard, art can be seen at the Gail Michael Collection and the Seven Sanctuaries Gallery, both of which are situated off of the busy thoroughfare in oasis-like settings. When in these galleries, visitors are liable to forget exactly where they are, which is precisely the point of art, wherever it might find a home.