“Selections from the Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art,” at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art

A Trip to the Virtual Vault

Northern California Women’s Facility, Stockton, CA, 2001 by Sandow Birk | Gift of Berkus Family Collection

Deep into this ongoing pandemic-era business of “going to an exhibition” online — without ever leaving home — an intriguing experiential transference can sometimes occur. If one knows and loves a particular art space — such as the inviting (and still young and precocious) Westmont Museum of Art, on the idyllic Montecito campus — it’s possible just from seeing digital images to imagine the art living and breathing in that actual, familiar property/sanctum.

With a little wistful imagination, we can feel the presence of loaded pieces from, say, Alison Saar, Kiki Smith, and Charles Garabedian (Self-Portrait as a Bobble-Head), in the Museum context, even if the works never left the vault and made it to the gallery walls and floor. And it is a healthily expanding vault, nicely evidenced via the new online show “Selections from the Permanent Collection of Contemporary Art.” 

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Drawn from the collections of the late architect/collector Barry Berkus (and son Jeff) and Arnold and Marie Ford, the show allows us to peer admiringly into the museum’s collection, while shining a light on artists with Central Coast links and beyond. Two-dimensional pieces include the amped-up natural takes of floral and aviary subjects by Dorothy Churchill-Johnson and Nathan Huff, respectively, and one of Sandow Birk’s hauntingly beautiful, post-romantic prison paintings (as seen in a 2001 show at the old Contemporary Arts Forum). 

Varying shades of articulate looniness grace sculptural work of Wesley Anderegg, Dug Uyesaka, Dane Goodman, and the late Keith Puccinelli. Museum-centric memories buzz here, between Uyesaka’s 2016 retrospective and Goodman/Puccinelli having memorably vivified the museum’s space with the uniquely collaborative show “Tug” in 2015. Notably — and geo-culturally correctly — this contemporary-art-focused selection also serves up a sub-theme of Latin American-ized art, including the consortium creative energies of the Cuban Los Carpinteros collective and the Mexican-American collective The Date Farmers.

Mexican-born Marcos Ramirez ERRE’s totemic sculpture “Toy An-Horse,” of wood, steel and red lava rocks, is one of many works on your screen begging to be seen and appreciated in the museum’s real space home. One day….

411: Through March 27, Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, westmont.edu/museum/contemporarycollection, (805) 565-6162.

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