Jane Gottlieb: Beyond Belief
At the Carnegie Art Museum, through June 4.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Santa Barbara artist Jane Gottlieb has a thing about color. She likes it heavy, unnatural, and super-saturated. Fine for a painter, but in a photographer — which Gottlieb is — it’s more often that not a bit over the top, a gesture that arouses and disturbs, often at the same time. Add the fact that this is not color found, as in pictures of brightly colored things, but rather color introduced, as in pictures of things brightly colored by hand, or Photoshop, and always after the picture has been taken, and you have the makings of a potential party, or a clamorous color collision. In her current show at the Carnegie Art Museum in downtown Oxnard, Gottlieb manages to produce mostly the former, in a festive atmosphere of slightly surreal landscapes oozing vibrant yellows, electric blues, and hot, hot, hot pinks.
Gottlieb’s subjects vary from the ridiculous to the sublime. Her 1995 image of “Miró’s Playground” twists the Spanish artist’s biomorphic sculpture away from his compadre Picasso and into the meta-artistic direction of Andy Warhol’s prints. “Life,” an impressive fantasy in pink, green, and yellow, takes as its point of departure a photo of our own MacKenzie Park lawn bowling facility. The transformation of the park scene, which — uncharacteristic of Gottlieb — includes a dozen or so human figures, is representative of the effect her incessant colorization has on the world as a whole. Majestic palms and a central stand of cacti take on iconic functions, suggesting a vaguely Egyptian sense of ceremony and ritual foreboding. The pink of the contrasting foliage riots toward the sky in twin clouds, while its repetition in the halos that surround the boles of the palms suggests fireworks. Bowlers and their green alike are casually translated from this realm to another, where it feels as though an alien invasion could be imminent.
The beauty of this show lies partly in its wonderful location, the quirky and surprising Carnegie Art Museum. With its Greek Revival columns and façade, and its location in the Centennial Plaza section of Oxnard, the museum is an improbable monument to the persistence of “culture” in the face of urbanization. Situated just a few short steps from a multiplex cinema, a Cold Stone Creamery, and a Starbucks, the museum manages to at once give off the enticing fizz of the new and the dignity and gravitas of the certifiably old. Gottlieb’s art, like the museum in which it is now on view, is a lively mixture of old and new, established and contemporary, that brings with it a festive and relaxed atmosphere in which marvelous things seem possible again.