Quint Contemporary Art has had several addresses in the past 30 years, but wherever it has been — downtown, Mission Hills, the Miramar area or La Jolla — the gallery has been a space you just had to visit. My history of seeing shows there spans 24 years; and from the first, I sensed that Mark Quint was the real thing, with his enormous passion for art and artists.
Happily, that intuition proved correct. But who knew that he was going to be able to sustain his space(s) for so long, in a town where collectors of serious contemporary art aren’t exactly plentiful?
It isn’t easy to pinpoint how he has accomplished this. But there are certain qualities that have worked in his favor: a keen eye for artists of vision and substance; the desire to stick with them; a curiosity about new artists; and a personality that appeals to museum professionals, collectors and, yes, critics, too. He was also willing to bring artists from afar for residencies (in partnership with Michael Krichman), which yielded a string of memorable shows.
Given this history, it’s a brilliant curatorial stroke for the California Center for the Arts Museum to have assembled “Quint: Three Decades of Contemporary Art.” Curator Olivia Luther worked closely with Quint and with gallery director Ben Strauss-Malcolm, installing 99 works by 49 artists that takes full advantage of the museum’s elegant spaces.
One of the artists Quint exhibited, from early on, was the late Manny Farber. Quint recognized that here, in Leucadia, was one of the best American painters. For proof of that claim, you need look no further than the two big pictures on view. One of them, “Earth, Fire, Air, Water” (1984), represents the artist’s use of flora, which he mingled with notes to himself that he would paint in meticulous detail.
A beautiful conceit in the show is to have a window with a red frame next to Farber’s other painting, “Ingenious Zeus,” creating a view into an adjoining room. When you look through it, you see paintings by Patricia Patterson, his widow, who also showed at Quint for decades.
The window underscores their bond, while also hinting at the separate concerns of their work. In her paintings, the focus isn’t on things in the studio, but the world of the Aran Islands of Ireland; for decades, she painted the landscape, her friends and their homes in the village ofKilmurvey on Inishmore. Her mix of pictures and a sculptural kitchen inspired by their homes, collectively called “to observe + to be” (2009), is quietly affecting and full of subtle beauty.
What’s generally impressive about the show is the sheer abundance of high points. Jean Lowe has always done terrific installations with her papier ma^ché books, but she goes to new lengths (and heights) with her “Studio Book Shelf” (2009), It’s approximately 15 feet high, and its shelves are thick with “volumes” like “The High Fiber Diet,” picturing a chipmunk on its cover, and “Hospice Lock Down” credited to Tom Clancy. She questions cultural conventions with deft, good-natured wit.
Lowe also makes ingenious use of her materials. And one of the bonds between disparate works in this show is a marvelous use of chosen materials and devotion to technique.
Emblematic of this quality: Ryan McGinness’ paintings, with their dazzling use of small images and intertwined lines, The sources for people, buildings, animals and everything else are clip art and silhouettes. But they are dense to the point of hallucinatory in paintings like “The True Knowledge of Things” (2007).
Technique doesn’t have to be intricate to be mesmerizing. The kind of simplicity that Kim MacConnel demonstrates in the grand scale “Intermission” (2009) is the distillation of his years of experience using pattern in his art. He mingles shapes that have ordinary labels, like triangles and diamonds, with others, bulging and rounded, that have become his own.
Sculptural selections reveal the same intense commitment to medium and vision. Tara Donovan has used thousands of pins to make a cube — untitled — that is 47 inches by 47 inches by 47 inches. Aaron T. Stephan employed hundreds of altered books to make a one-person room with a rectangular exterior and spherical interior called “Building Houses/Hiding Under Rocks” (2007).
Jay Johnson’s “NRNRNA” (1991), Roman de Salvo’s “Olive Branch Rorschach” (2008) and Roy McMakins’ “A Set of Photographs of a Black Gateleg Table, Both Open and Closed” (2007) — they deserve to be singled out, too. But then so do numerous other works. By now, though, let’s hope you are convinced that you need to see this show for yourself. It isn’t to be missed, even if you have only a casual interest in contemporary art.