After an hour, two u-turns, and 50 miles in a borrowed truck, I arrived at di Rosa, former home of the late and prolific collectors Veronica and Rene di Rosa. This Napa Valley property was and is more than just a home. Spanning over 200 acres, it includes a Main Gallery, a Gatehouse Gallery, the 'historic' home of the di Rosas, a Paul Kos chapel, a sculpture courtyard, a sculpture meadow, and an average of 40 territorial peacocks at any given time.
The di Rosa collection includes approximately 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists, all with ties to Northern California, spanning the 1950s to the 2000s. The wall labels read like a who's who in the history of Northern California art, including everyone from David Park and Joan Brown to Larry Sultan and Stephanie Syjuco. The di Rosas knew no material limits. They were attracted to, and gleefully collected, everything from video work to large-scale outdoor sculpture. Their actual house, apparently left as they lived in it, is so full of art (sculptures in the bathroom, fabric works on the beds, giant paintings hanging on the angled A-frame ceiling) visitors get a sense of the couples' compulsion, their generosity, and both the good and bad in the past 60 years of our region's art output.
While most of di Rosa is unchanging, the Gatehouse Gallery features shifting, curated exhibitions of contemporary art. Though separate from the di Rosa collection, the exhibitions are situated within the context of that collection, crowded in at the edges by an overflow of William T. Wiley paintings and David Best art cars.
For the current exhibition, Bay Area-based curator Renny Pritikin organized External Combustion: Four Sacramento Sculptors, a show of the four mid-career Sacramento sculptors Nathan Cordero, Julia Couzens, Chris Daubert, and Dave Lane. Their works are visually disparate, but tied together, as per the curatorial statement, by "a rough kind of beauty" and "use of modest, found, or industrial materials."
While I found the work visually unappealing in many respects (with a few exceptions I'll note later), one of the main goals of the show -- to expose a regional art economy to a wider Bay Area audience -- was definitely accomplished. I arrived at di Rosa with no knowledge of the artwork being produced in Sacramento and left with four names in my roster. I must admit the show's conceit primed me to be skeptical about the quality of the work. If I can fault an art scene for being regional (and I'm not sure how this is really a pejorative), I can fault my adopted hometown for being exclusive, homogenous, and commercially driven. Admitting to my own prejudices and expectations, here goes:
Nathan Cordero, Untitled, 2012.
Nathan Cordero's sculptural wall works channel a Mission School, Barry McGee type of lettering and crowded salon-style hanging. His most interesting piece, a large-scale sculpture titled It has been so long since someone has touched you like I have includes a specimen-like installation of metal relics and scrap unearthed by the artist's metal detector. The small soda tabs, razors, buttons and fall leaves spread out of a pair of cast plaster hands extending from the wall. Reclaiming this discarded, half-buried detritus, Cordero turns scrap into a reminder of the materials under our feet and, by proxy, all that is hidden, waiting to be found.
Julia Couzens, Fading fast, but slowly, 2011.
As Pritikin aptly summarized, Julia Couzens, Dave Lane and Chris Daubert all share material interests. Couzens' Fading fast, but slowly... is a delicate companion to Cordero's metallic collection. Using dismantled fruit baskets, Couzens builds a draping wall of bendy green plastic. The piece itself resembles a large fishing net, nicely installed just opposite a view of the di Rosa's man-made Winery Lake.
Dave Lane, Device for Creating Stars, Model A., 2010-12.
Dave Lane's huge combinations of gears, wheels, defunct globes, lightbulbs and other unidentifiable machinery parts barely fit in the confines of the Gatehouse Gallery. Device for Creating Stars, Model A. almost touches the ceiling. The pieces promise motion but delivers none, instead standing in for the obsolete inventions rusting away in barns across the country. Lane's sculptures are inventive and magical, but also enormous and clunky, a dichotomy that didn't quite win me over. His other body of work on view, small boxes with architectural models and real-life flora, create a series of surreal scenes featuring tiny naked women. Beyond the obvious macro-versus-micro work ethic, it is hard to reconcile the two types of work into one studio practice.
Chris Daubert, Sonata, 2013.
The sure-fire crowd-pleaser is Chris Daubert's Sonata. Made from motion detectors, solenoids, tuned metal ringers, and what looks like enough electric circuitry to power a small country, the interactive piece senses motion on one side and then 'plays' that motion on the other, encouraging teams of two to move back and forth across the sculptural wall. By contrast, his other piece in the show, The Wind was completely static, leaving some viewers looking for moving, interactive parts in an illuminated set of black acrylic birdhouses.
Within the context of di Rosa, External Combustion fits right in. It is expansive and encompassing, gathered in the spirit of widening the artists' audience and bringing fresh, outside perspectives to a (slightly removed) Bay Area art-going crowd. At the same time, the di Rosa permanent collection is so large, so jumbled, and so democratically organized, it overwhelms the senses and absorbs every piece of art on the property into its fold. A more jarring visual discrepancy between the permanent collection and the rotating exhibitions might serve the di Rosa well, along with a little editing in the Main Exhibition hall. That said, I wouldn't change a thing. For a wholehearted art adventure and a challenge to your Bay Area art expectations, journey up to the di Rosa on a foggy San Francisco day and afterwards, treat yourself to lunch at the Fremont Diner. You're welcome in advance.
External Combustion: Four Sacramento Sculptors is on view through September 22, 2013 at di Rosa Gatehouse Gallery in Napa. For more information visit dirosaart.org.
All photos by Israel Valencia.