Lindsay Warren, “Power-Outage,” on view at Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art | Credit: Courtesy

In the late architect/art collector Barry A. Berkus’s coffee table opus Architecture/Art/Parallels/Connections, he addresses the mutual influencers in his life devoted to the two A-words. “The more I see,” he writes, “the more questions fuel my desire to learn, to observe, and to create. This process becomes what I call ‘walking with the eye.'”

Berkus’s insightful and curious eye can be seen, in architectural terms, in such local structures as the Galleria (home to baby Target, at La Cumbre and State) and in the dynamic MOXI museum, which Berkus designed but didn’t live to see in concrete form. That eye, as avid collector, is a silent guide in A Bold and Unconventional Collector: Highlights from the Barry Berkus Family Collection, now enlivening the walls and floors of the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art.

Berkus collected many well-known artists in his day — such as Rauschenberg, Hockney, Lichtenstein, and Warhol, which have been auctioned off — as well as “lesser” names deserving wider recognition. This selection features such noted artists as Kiki Smith, Charles Garabedian, Nancy Graves, and Andy Goldsworthy — a photograph documenting a Goldsworthy art-embracing-nature piece in Santa Barbara’s Botanic Gardens, made at Berkus’s invitation.

The list of eye-catching works in the museum goes left into more obscure art terrain, including John Walker’s “The Centre #2,” a huge, visually visceral canvas from the neo-Expressionism-bolstered 1980s that leaps and oozes off the wall. Lurking on the gallery floor, Luisa Rabbia’s 2008 sculpture “Mother” combines membranous encasement and a mythic suggestion of maternal protective instinct. Lawrence Gipe, who worked at UCSB for a spell and left his local imprint on murals such as one at Anacapa and Victoria, imbues enigma and dark allure in his painting “Woman at Window.” Its subject peers mysteriously out a window at an undisclosed vision of pleasure, horror, or nothingness. Viewer’s choice.

Other paintings demanding attention in the show include Adam Roose’s 2003 “Chronopolis 2,” a clean-lined futuristic abstraction, and Lindsay Warren’s strange and lively “Power-Outage,” in which a cartoony, paint-by-number style prevails in a fantasy forest scene with ghostly rooster drawings flown in, as if in an alternative nature dream.

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Berkus’s collecting adventures managed to deal with important national and international artists, but also celebrated the riches of artists calling Santa Barbara home. Several of those locals, including artist-poet Mary Heebner and proto-collagist William Dole, are represented in the entrance gallery.

Some in this group of artists lay claim to home turf revisitation, having had major exhibitions in this museum. Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli’s serio-comic collaborative show Tug is one example, along with one-person shows by sinuous abstractionist Marie Schoeff and deft, delicate assemblage artists Dug Uyesaka and Tony Askew.

Photography, a Santa Barbara treat and obsession, shines via the light off Wayne McCall’s conceptual image-within-an-image and a slyly, darkly witty image from Richard Ross. 

Ross’s Capuchin Cemetery Rome” is a stately shot of a mosaic of priestly skulls, taken in 1989, around the time of his memorable Museology series — coaxing unexpected elegance from shots of dead creatures in dead, cryptic spaces.

There may be no binding, discernible aesthetic connecting this culling of contemporary art, apart from some links one can make to Berkus’s innate architectural sensibility. Even so, despite the disparate artistic entities here, some implied though line connects with the discerning and restless perspective of a beholder/collector who excelled in the art of “walking the eye.”

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