As of March 1, there’s a new contemporary art gallery in town-the current endeavor of local art dealer Edward Cella. Many know the young art connoisseur as the gallery director at Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, where he worked for 11 years. Now, he has broken off to pursue his own gallery, Edward Cella: Art+Architecture (ECAA).
As an art dealer in Santa Barbara, Cella has a specific mission. Through a collaborative effort with international artists and dealers, ECAA will attempt to connect Santa Barbara to the larger contemporary art world. At this point, “In the contemporary art world, for emerging and mid-career artists, an exhibit in Santa Barbara is relatively insignificant,” said Cella, but he would like to help change that. “Hopefully my program of work will gain the trust of others in the art world,” he said. “My goal is to act as a support to artists.”
Santa Barbara has a history of significant art galleries working to cultivate important contemporary artists. The Esther Bear Gallery, an important Santa Barbara gallery in the ‘50s and ‘60s, was one of the first to exhibit abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell’s work. The Ruth Schaffner Gallery was equally influential during the ‘70s and ‘80s. “I hope I can play that same role in developing talent,” said Cella.
ECAA has been very selective in choosing artists to represent, focusing on contemporary artists with institutional holdings and those who are internationally focused. “None of the artists I work with are simply Santa Barbara artists,” Cella said. “They may call Santa Barbara home, but they are thinking globally.”
Cella grew up in Orange County. As a child, he gained an appreciation of art on travels throughout the world with his family, and became fascinated with architecture. He came to Santa Barbara to study art history and architecture at UCSB, completing both his undergraduate and graduate work in the department. At one point, he even considered becoming an architect. “I knew at an early age I was not a Frank Gehry or Mies van der Rohe,” he said, “but my appreciation of that informs me of what I do now.”
While ECAA’s focus is contemporary art, Cella also helps clients collect works by post-war artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Rosenquist. Still, his first passion lies in the latter part of his gallery’s name. A long-time collector of architectural drawings, Cella is the only art dealer on the West Coast to represent such documents. ECAA carries drawings by Frank Gehry, Richard Neutra, and Lebbeus Woods, among others. When he discusses the topic, the well-dressed art sophisticate becomes noticeably impassioned, waving his hands and arms as he speaks.
Although there are less than a dozen private collectors in the United States for this type of work, Cella has gained respect for his collection. In recent years there has been a growing interest in modern design, with more museums focusing on the architecture of their own buildings in order to attract visitors. UCSB houses one of the world’s largest collections of architectural documents, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris is a major collector. The Guggenheim’s recent exhibit of the work of Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most innovative living architects, demonstrates the burgeoning interest in architectural drawings.
Cella hopes to exhibit more drawings as he expands the gallery. “The way we know great architecture is through architectural drawings,” said Cella. “They are the touchstone for the concept.” ECAA currently represents some of the sketches for the original World Trade Center, as well as a 20-foot scroll of drawings for the Freedom Tower. These are some of the most important documents in U.S. history.
The interplay between art and architecture is the zeitgeist of Edward Cella’s pursuits. “This is my moment,” said Cella, “the moment that connects me to my future.”
Ste. 3) celebrates its opening with its inaugural exhibition, Welcome to Our Neighborhood. The exhibition features works by emerging and mid-career artists Ann Diener, David Florimbi, Robert Heckes, Gerald Incandela, Gary Lang, Mary Heebner, R. Nelson Parrish, Joan Tanner, and Annie Yakutis. The show runs through April 22; gallery hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call 962-5900 or visit edwardcella.com.