A Sense of Place

Berkus Collection Celebrates Contemporary Santa Barbara

by Brett Leigh Dicks

Even while The Barry Berkus and Family Art Collection in Memory of Gail Berkus was still in the process of being hung, nothing could hinder the curiosity of passers-by. Whenever onlookers inquired about whose work was going on exhibit, the County Art Commission’s Curator of Collections Rita Ferri enthusiastically informed them that this collection of art is now in fact theirs.

“I told the people that these works actually belong to them now,” offered Ferri. “Here we have almost 70 pieces of art that the public wasn’t seeing, works that now belong to the public. We have so many incredible artists in our community, and this collection is a wonderful reflection of that. And I think this collection will be a real eye opener for people who don’t follow contemporary art, because it will challenge their notion of what contemporary art actually is.”

Santa Barbara architect and philanthropist Barry Berkus recently donated the collection to the county in memory of his late wife, Gail. The origin of these works dates back to the early ’70s when the two started purchasing the work of local artists. Through collecting Santa Barbara artists during such a dynamic period, and incorporating all mediums, they made their collection a stand-alone anthology of local contemporary art.

“It is a great way to look at the people who have made contributions to our community through their media,” explains Berkus. “Even though this is a collection of individuals, working in different areas, this is a group of artists that talked and worked together. It is fun to see them all together. If you track the history of a place through art, you begin to get a story. And this is a story that is still being woven.”

Barry Berkus sees this donation as the start of something significant. While this collection aligns itself with contemporary art, Berkus foresees similar donations to the county from other patrons whose collections specialize in other aspects of Santa Barbara art and culture. But eventually even just this enchanting founding collection needs a permanent home.

“My real dream is to see a county gallery within the downtown area,” offers Berkus. “We could have rotating exhibits not only from this collection, but of all the work in the county collection. This could be the start of a big move for counties everywhere to become repositories for local art. I think one of their missions could then be to actively expose the art that is created within the community.”

4•1•1 The Barry Berkus and Family Art Collection in Memory of Gail Berkus. At the Channing Peake Gallery, March 20-May 24.

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