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What excites YOU about contemporary art?

A few years ago, I was stuck in a catch-22: I only liked art I felt I could learn from, but I didn’t like what I was seeing, so I went to see less art, and so limited my chances of discovering exciting contemporary art.

Things have changed. First, I’m more receptive. I’ve expanded tastes in art beyond painting and drawing. I put aside preconceptions (as well as feelings of intimidation at fancy galleries). Second, I’ve built up my art endurance. Since I know more about art, it’s easier to look at art for longer durations — to contextualize it, file it away, and recall it — before feeling overwhelmed. It’s like eating: don’t fill up on the bread. Be selective. Cleanse the palette. Save room for dessert.

Most importantly, I’ve become a believer in reciprocity — that the more I look at art, the more I’ll be able to find what excites me. Sooner or later, I’m always delightfully surprised.


I hadn’t explored art in the South Bay much — until today.

The San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art‘s large windows let natural light into the meticulous, winding exhibition space. This Show Needs You is a friendly show of interactive social practice projects, including works by the veteran Linda Montano, and the esteemed professor Ted Purves and his partner Suzanne Cockrell. I appreciated SJICA’s reading room, chock full of printed matter and sited in a welcoming foyer just inside the front doors. The Print Center looks modest but immaculate. A show by San Jose State University MFA grads opens this weekend — don’t miss the impressive ceramic tableaus of Amanda Smith.

Making our way back up So. First Street, we popped in to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles‘s shop and foyer: cat earrings and donut-shaped coasters in the former, a cool minidress knit of VHS tape in the latter. Did I mention the tape is wound through a video camera, purported to be taped or played back in a later performance? Badass. (Knitter’s Tapestry by Daniela K. Rosner and Kimiko Ryokai). In conjunction with the ZeroOne festival, the Museum is exhibiting textiles using digital technology.

Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americano (MACLA) is exhibiting works for auction. A fair amount of figurative painting, some fine relief prints by Juan Fuentes, and Jaime Guerrero‘s uncanny luchador mask in dripping hand-blown glass. I also really liked a mysterious photo of a falafel “totem,” perhaps a double-exposure of signage and a drive-in.

I was feeling all of my 30 years in Gallery Anno Domini (I’m just too damn old to appreciate the youth/skate curating / pop culture consumerism), so I found myself admiring the minimally-renovated theater the gallery and store are now housed in. With a huge central space, and a massive screen, I wondered why AD doesn’t present more media work. Maybe showing art that privileges evidence of the hand, i.e., drawing/painting and modestly-sized sculptures, is a form of rebellion in Silicon Valley.

Unfamiliar with San Jose (and with lunch calling), I totally forgot to stop by Space 47, around the corner from AD. I’m excited by the idea of an artist’s run outpost among San Jose’s chain stores, and hope to visit it soon.

The deSaisset Museum at Santa Clara University is nice campus museum, and the Woff and I had our socks knocked off by their current show, Eye on the Sixties: Vision, Body, and Soul: Selections from the Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson. Like Woff said, it was like seeing old friends: a choice Nauman print, a Ruscha gunpowder drawing, a Nathan Oliviera work on paper, a David Park’s impassive faces in full color. I also loved several hilarious Oldenbergs, like screenprints of 2-D Mickey Mouse structures, and a semi-transparent plastic relief of a car obstructing a lithograph behind it. I even found a deliciously tactile lithograph with silver ink on gridded paper by Frank Stella, whose God-is-in-the-details geometric abstractions don’t often appeal to me. The show also reflected the burgeoning use of new materials: I found Sam Richardson’s cast plastic landscape cross-sections to wonderfully ambiguous, and somehow contemporary. There was also a kinetic “painting” with stripes of translucent color gently waving across a screen reminiscent of a television. James Grant’s #14, Bright Circle (1970), a rainbow-colored oculus of cast resin, takes the cake.

James Grant, #14, Bright Circle, 1970, cast polyester resin, 29 1/8 x 29 1/4 x 5 1/4 in., Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, © The Estate of James Grant
James Grant, #14, Bright Circle, 1970, cast polyester resin, 29 1/8 x 29 1/4 x 5 1/4 in., Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, © The Estate of James Grant

Go see the show, and be sure to ask the attendants to turn on the kinetic works (they’re usually off, to minimize wear-and-tear, but it’s quite ecologically sensitive, isn’t it? Thanks, P, for lending the hybrid. Happy earth day.)

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