Of the several calendar‑marking events on this spring’s fine‑art slate, the most significant moment is a grand celebration of — pardon the dubious L‑word — “local art.” The newly gifted segment of the famous Berkus art collection, a treasure trove passing into the ownership of the County of Santa Barbara, is an eye‑opening selection of contemporary work by gifted and risk‑taking artists who live, and have lived, in the locality of Santa Barbara. This exhibition, along with others this spring, make the scene fairly resplendent with art new and old, traditional and tradition‑busting, and generally worth getting away from the home entertainment center to check out.
Nicole Strasburg: 40+40@40 In which the distinctive landscape painter finds herself at the age of 40, with a mature sense of how to both personalize and pay homage to the power of our planetary home and its natural forces, especially concerning the meeting point of land and sea. Forty paintings on birch and 40 on paper show an artist who has also apparently found herself, both in terms of an expressive language to call her own, and a national career that has begun to take off nicely in the last few years. Through March 30; Sullivan Goss, 7 E. Anapamu St.; 730‑1460.
Point. Click. Laugh! When humor meets art in any deliberate way, the result can be amusing, and also sometimes less than artful or subtle. But in the upcoming group exhibition at the Jewish Community, Point. Click. Laugh!, we’re already prone to give it the benefit of the doubt, given an artist list including such prominent names in photography as Mary Ellen Mark, Duane Michaels, Joel Meyerowitz and our man of screen, song, and assorted artistic sideline pursuits, Jeff Bridges. Through May 26; Jewish Community Center, 524 Chapala St.; 957‑1115.
Renaissance to Rococo: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art Indisputably a blockbuster exhibition, this dazzling gathering of old masters and breathtaking canvases descends on SBMA courtesy of the most venerable museum in America, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Normally, you’d have to pay a visit to these works’ home, but a rare road show of some of the greatest pieces in the collection ends its journey in Santa Barbara. Lucky for us: Proceed from the exhibition’s frontispiece of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s wowing “Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga” through the SBMA galleries containing Orazio Gentileschi’s intense “Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes,” brooding significa by Caravaggio, Tiepolo, and breezier fare by Goya, François Boucher, and Franz Hals. Through May 28; S.B. Museum of Art, 1130 State St.; 963‑4364.
Barry Berkus and Family Art Collection: Inaugural Exhibition, in memory of Gail Berkus There may be no finer flyover exhibition dealing with contemporary art in Santa Barbara during the past 25 years than this, an inspiring and substantial piece of the respected art collection amassed by architect Barry Berkus and his late wife Gail. As of now, Berkus has generously bequeathed more than 60 works, all made by current or one‑time Santa Barbarans, to the County of S.B. An inaugural sampler show is opening at the Channing Peake, and the collection promises to expand as it goes. The Berkuses’ eyes are refined and also game for a dare or two: The quality in the selection runs hot, as does the sense that Santa Barbara’s artistic product is greater than the sum of its showcasing opportunities. Mar. 24‑May 2; Channing Peake Gallery, County Admin. Bldg., 105 E. Anapamu St.
Journey: Dan Eldon’s Images of War and Peace Dan Eldon was a celebrated young photojournalist who was inadvertently stoned in Somalia in 1992, an idealistic 22‑year‑old whose work ironically helped alert attention to the tragic civil war there. While Eldon wasn’t an artist in the traditional sense, he brought an artist’s sensibilities to his profound sense of purpose and engagement in work and life — and in fighting to awaken the world to the plight of global neighbors, especially in Africa. A special exhibition of Eldon’s images, scrapbooks, and journal entries is being presented at the University Art Museum, at a time when young artists and activists are finding their own conscience about global politics being sparked. Additional events: Opening reception, Tue., Apr. 4, 5‑7pm, UAM, with Rosie O’Donnell, photographer Nick Ut and author/editor Jennifer New; lunch with Kathy Eldon, founder, Creative Visions Foundation, Mon., Apr. 10, 11:30am‑1pm; Dying to Tell the Story, documentary by Dan’s sister, Amy Eldon, Thu., Apr. 20, 6‑8:30pm, Isla Vista Theater; gallery talk, curator Natalie Sanderson, Thu., May 11, 6pm. Show exhibits Apr. 5‑May 14; UCSB’s University Art Museum; 893‑7564.
Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A. R. Valentien Eighty watercolors of native California plants and flowers by this dynamic early 20th‑century master of the genre. The exhibition is rotating, opening on April 12 with depictions of grasses and ferns, changing May 3‑21 to wildflowers, and ending May 24‑June 11, with trees and other flowers. Apr. 12‑June 11; Wildling Art Museum, 2329 Jonata St., Los Olivos; 688‑1082. E.V. Day: Intergalactic Installation Contemporary Arts Forum has been especially conceptual‑minded under its current management, bringing in some disarming surprises in terms of media and end effects, often best appreciated under prolonged scrutiny. Next up on the CAF agenda is New York‑based artist E.V. Day’s Intergalactic Installation, a sculptural installation art project reportedly brushing up against themes of rocket science and post‑feminist concerns. In the Bloom Projects corner gallery, CAF presents Jesse Bradford’s Of Two and Three, a newly commissioned, mythologically based mural, with spillover into the Glassbox gallery. Apr. 22‑June 18; Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo; 966‑5373.
Taking Root: A Century of Migrant Workers in California The subject of migrant workers in California has intrigued curious and compassionate photographers for decades, going back beyond Horace Bristol’s legendary photo essay with John Steinbeck, which led the writer to create The Grapes of Wrath. In this modest survey of the subject viewed in a century‑long historical context, examples are culled from the WPA and FSA photography field studies and more contemporary sources as images from César Chávez’s march to Sacramento. Apr. 22‑Aug. 6; S.B. Museum of Art, 1130 State St.; 963‑4364.