Fifty seems like a reasonable number of artists for an exhibition meant to offer a mini-panorama of the San Diego art scene. It should be said that this show at Quint Contemporary Art is not a look at the wider regional scene that would encompass Tijuana; its title, “Homing In: An Exhibition of 50 San Diego Artists,” can be taken literally, for the most part.
One of the artists – and a very good one – does live in Tijuana: Iana Quesnell. But she emerged and went to grad school in San Diego, so the name of the exhibition doesn’t mislead much.
There’s a single work by each artist on view at Quint, and one might suspect that the show would be weighted toward the local ones that usually show there. You’d be correct in this line of thinking.
Nonetheless, Quint has long shown at least some of the best local artists, such as Jean Lowe, Kim MacConnel, Patricia Patterson and Jay Johnson. Happily, many of the picks from outside its stable in “Homing In” are also good ones.
Among Quint artists, Johnson has a haunting little wall sculpture, “We Think We Know,” with a figure and props balanced in seemingly fragile fashion on a thin armature. Patterson is in strong form, too, with a small painting, “Kids at the Lake,” that looks as if the image of the three children originated with a snapshot. The way she blurs their faces makes you sense the weight of time, memory or both. Patterson softens the landscape behind them, too, underscoring the ethereal mood of the scene and, in characteristic fashion, makes the frame part of the composition picture with her use of color.
The exhibition looks back, paying homage to two major local artists who are now gone: Italo Scanga, who passed away in 2001, and Manny Farber, who died last year. There are judicious examples by both: a sculpture, “Figures, Shell and Acorns,” that displays Scanga’s flair for fusing and casting decorative objects he’d locate at swap meets and elsewhere; and one of Farber’s beautifully done oil-on-paper works from the 1970s, “Three Buglers,” when he was using old packages as a prime subject.
“Homing In” also features emerging artists. In this group there’s Adam Belt, who has an elegant way of focusing the eye on one silhouetted form in a white surface, as in “VLA Radio Telescope.” Here, as in other images, Belt uses a single form that implies a larger cosmos.
Another young artist with an incisively atmospheric work is Matt Coors. His digitally produced photo-collage, “In the Yard,” contains a spider dangling in a web before a darkened view of a window. Its’s gently gothic.
Also arresting: a distorted female figure by Alida Cervantes, “Yvonne,” in which photographer Yvonne Venegas is the model for her painting. It’s done in a style you might call restrained expressionism.
Established artists make up the vast majority among the 50 on view and most contribute a strong piece. One highlight is John Rogers’ architectural sculpture, “Deconstructed Pyramid,” displaying his perfectionist’s ability with materials (here, birch wood) and his inventiveness with historical forms. Another is James Skalman’s “Lowdown,” with its subtly surreal evocation of a wall with a lone, thin window and a boxed landscape joined to it. Also, if you haven’t experienced Chris Reilly’s virtuosity with encaustic (melted wax) painting, “Nameless” is a hypnotic example.
Any show like this is inevitably going to trigger thoughts about who isn’t included, and there are odd omissions: Alexia Markarian, one of San Diego’s most consistently seductive and challenging painters, is an obvious one. Ditto for two object-makers: William Feeney, whose curious conceptual sculptures were displayed to good effect at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2007, and John Dillemuth, who makes complex, low-tech kinetic constructions that are wickedly witty and who had strong solo shows in 2006 and 2007.
Complaints aside, this exhibition is a well-designed rejoinder to those who think that high-level art isn’t being made here. This is a curious point of view that exists in the wider world. It has roots in the fact that venues are limited, that confidence in collecting local art isn’t what it should be and that San Diego has never promoted its best artists well enough.
In short, the quality of the art-support system isn’t equal to the art. This modest show reminds us of that, even as it provides a broadly focused way of promoting local work. Mark Quint, the gallery’s owner, and Ben Strauss-Malcolm, its director and curator of this show, deserve praise for taking on this challenge.