If you have not visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art since the grand opening of its remodeled galleries in August, now is the time. Get organized and go over there. The museum’s blockbuster Van Gogh exhibition begins on February 27 and runs until May 22. Suppose you want to tour the spectacular space and see the outstanding permanent collection before advance ticketed reservations become a thing. In that case, this is your window of opportunity.
On Thursday, January 6, the museum’s Art Matters lecture series continues in the Mary Craig Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. with Erik Risser, Associate Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Risser will discuss the conservation of a monumental bronze sculpture of a drunken satyr discovered at Herculaneum in 1754.
The Getty showed the statue in its 2019 show Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri. Risser will describe the intricate interplay between restoration and interpretation that scholars and conservators have engaged in ever since digging up this fascinating figure in the mid-18th century. Anyone who has ever woken up with a hangover will surely relate. Drink some water and be glad you didn’t pass out under Vesuvius.
The following two Thursday evenings at SBMA feature two of the museum’s most rewarding programs, Sketching in the Galleries on Thursday, January 13, and Writing in the Galleries on Thursday, January 20. Museum Teaching Artists will be on hand to guide the sketchers. UCSB lecturer and essayist Ellen O’Connell Whittet will be there on the 20th to advise and encourage the writers. These ticketed events are free on Thursday evenings when admission is also free of charge between 5 and 8 p.m. It looks like the Sketching event on January 13 is already sold out, but never fear, as there will be another on Thursday, February 10.
On Sunday, January 23, the best-selling author of The Still Point of the Turning World, Emily Rapp Black, will appear at 2:30 p.m. in the Mary Craig Auditorium as part of the Parallel Stories series. This program pairs exciting contemporary authors with knowledgeable interlocutors for free-ranging discussions. Rapp Black’s latest book, Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg looks at the Mexican artist as an example of using creativity to silence pain.
Her companion for the conversation will be Alex Espinoza, Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at UC Riverside.
Finally, start boning up on Van Gogh in preparation for what promises to be one of the most ambitious and rewarding exhibits in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s history. Van Gogh scholar Martin Bailey has a blog called “Adventures with Van Gogh” on the site The Art Newspaper. Bailey has written a short essay on the artist every Friday since 2018, and it’s a great place to start.
For those more inclined to access their art history through cinema, consider an alternative to Vicente Minnelli’s sensationalizing potboiler Lust for Life (1956, with Kirk Douglas as Vincent). Van Gogh, the 1991 film by French director Maurice Pialat features Jacques Dutronc as Van Gogh and eschews clichés in favor of a compelling naturalism. You won’t see him cut off his ear, but you will learn a lot about what the last days of this extraordinary artist’s life might have been like.