With this exhibit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art continues to light up our community by displaying the best in modern and contemporary art from its permanent collection. Distinct from the recently concluded Left Coast show, which consisted of recent acquisitions, Contemporary/Modern focuses on important works that were created in two divergent periods, the modern period, from 1958-1980, and the contemporary, from 2010 to the present. Drawing on the museum’s extensive holdings in classic modernism, curator Julie Joyce has created a provocative context for some amazing recent art. For example, Jorge Pardo’s “Untitled (Sea Urchin)” of 2012 is fascinating in its own right as an example of the artist’s tendency to complicate the status of sculpture through cross-referencing it with the functionality of objects such as lamps, which are ordinarily understood as belonging to the less prestigious category of décor. Juxtapose this oversized table lamp with the gigantic and breathtaking 1969 Larry Poons painting “Yangtze,” however, and suddenly it feels as though one has stumbled into some mutant, space-age bachelor pad.
Elsewhere, the razzle-dazzle of a large Lucas Samaras textile mosaic abstraction from 1979 makes a perfect foil for the ebullient color of Helen Frankenthaler’s “Green Sway.” The most recent piece in the show, Guy Goodwin’s assemblage “Hotel/Motel IN,” which was completed this year, takes the colorful hard-edge style of such modernist painters as Frederick Hammersley and John McLaughlin, both of whom are also in the show, and blends it with Mike Kelley’s vocabulary of upholstered abjection. Every object in this concisely powerful selection benefits from the witty way in which these two eras have been brought together. The result makes an intriguing statement about the recent upsurge in interest in all things modern, while building a context in which very recent work can be more thoroughly understood and appreciated. The exhibition will be on view through January 4, 2015.