Once, overwhelmed by a fast-paced tour of huge European museums, I indulged in the fantasy of a world in which all museums were small, so that one had a chance to relax and enjoy just a dozen or so works at a time. I imagined chapel-like buildings from which the art seeker would emerge refreshed and uplifted, not overwhelmed and bleary-eyed. Of all the region’s museums, the Wildling in Los Olivos comes closest to bringing my fantasy to life. Their space, it is true, is limited. But do they ever put on an exhibition that isn’t absolutely lovely? If they do, you certainly could not prove it by the show currently on display, Members Collect III, a group of works drawn from the private collections of members of the museum.
Surprisingly, most of the landscapes-and the most impressive works-in Members Collect III are large ones, though they do not dwarf the winding, hall-sized gallery. Rather, their appeal is felt close up, at full impact, and the grouping of them all together gives the impression of an outright banquet. My favorites were Richmond Kelsey’s “Santa Ynez Mountains,” with its soft brushwork and subtle coloring, and the paintings by Millard Sheets, particularly “Bursting Spring,” with its great looping sprays of blossom-covered branches. Frank Kleinholz’s oil, “Mrs. Smith’s Cherry Tree,” resembling stained glass with its bright colors, slick surface, and bold black outlines, captured my attention as well. To be frank, there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Two canvasses by Ray Strong sat quietly amid the rest, the quality of the surrounding works so strong that the master did not overshadow them. How often does something like that happen?
No, I was not sorry to have made the trek to Los Olivos, though the day was a bleak and windy one, and I had to turn on my windshield wipers more than once. My only disappointment was realizing that since these works are not in public collections, we won’t have the chance to visit them again for years to come.