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

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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