The True Artist... is a limited glimpse of the di Rosa collection (there are over 2,000 pieces in Napa) -- about 50 works by the 20 or so artists who most shaped the Bay Area art scene from the 1950's on. A lot of these pieces have been classified as "Funk Art" -- works characterized by a certain nose-thumbing attitude toward subject matter, materials, and accepted notions of what-makes-something-art-in-the-first-place. This is not my favorite term (or genre, really), but I was taken by how refreshingly good-natured and genuinely funny this show is, something you don't see a lot of in art museums.
Another refreshing thing is that the works are unaccompanied by interpretive text. I mean none whatsoever. No titles, no artist names, no year they were made. Rene di Rosa's opinion is that nothing should get in the way of the viewer's relationship to the work -- all the rest of it is, in his words, "crap." (For people who need such things, there is a printed list available). Being an audio tour devotee and a reference book fanatic, I found this to be extraordinarily disconcerting, but in a good way. The works in these galleries aren't segregated by little panels telling you how to take them in individually, and so they have a curious way of relating to one another, and of encouraging you to do the same. It felt eccentric and confrontational and highly participatory -- a valuable lesson for me about my own assumptions and the way that I normally look at art.
My taste runs toward the conceptual end of things, and I particularly loved a couple of impossible-to-classify works -- one by David Best (of Burning Man fame), a crazily ornate paper construction that was as gorgeous and awe-inspiring as any of his playa temples. The other was a piece by an artist I haven't encountered before, Paul Kos. "Equilibre III" is his Dada-like sculpture made out of ordinary objects -- a cornhusk broom standing balanced on its whisk end with a long, curved iron bar perched atop its handle, two bells hanging from either end. It is delicate and mysterious and wonderfully expectant -- full of tension and surprise and wit. It looked as though at any moment it would either break into a performance of some ancient tribal bellybroomdance, or else collapse in a heap on the floor, elements akimbo, should even the slightest breeze pass its way.
The True Artist is an Amazing Luminous Fountain: Selected Works from the di Rosa Preserve is on view at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (at santacruzmah.org) through November 27th. The di Rosa Preserve (at dirosapreserve.org) is open to the public year-round.