James Turrell: Light and Land;
The Center for Land Use Interpretation: Formations of Erasure: Earthwork & Entropy and
Over Sonoma: Aerial Views of Unusual and Exemplary Land Uses
Sonoma County Museum
June 21, 2003 - January 4, 2004
Under Pressure: Prints from Two Palms Press
Sonoma Museum of Visual Art
May 21- July 27, 2003
What a coup to have all of these fascinating shows up at the same time in sleepy Santa Rosa. (Confusingly, although both museums have Sonoma in their name, both are located in Santa Rosa, about one hour north of San Francisco on the outskirts of wine country in Sonoma County.) The Sonoma Museum of Visual Art (SMOVA) resides in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts north of downtown, while the newly renovated Sonoma County Museum is located in Santa Rosa proper.
A former post office, the Sonoma County Museum is a jewel. The current staff have done a stellar job transforming what was a historical museum into a space for contemporary art and culture. The main floor beautifully houses James Turrell’s seminal light piece Raemer (1969). Last exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in 1976, Raemer fills a medium size room with an eerie blue light. The work is further facilitated by shaped walls to create that essential Turrell glow. Wonderfully meditative and resonant, this work lingers in your memory although many of the opening-goers seemed confused as to its relevance, turning to one another and asking “Is this it?”
Also on the ground floor, the Roden Crater Room sets the stage for the exhibitions upstairs. Aquatints and models depict Turrell’s almost thirty year quest to transform the Roden Crater, a giant crater in Arizona’s painted desert, into a celestial observatory. His interest in how we process visual information provides the unifying thread in all of his pieces here, each one asking us to question our surroundings and heightening our senses.
Upstairs, The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) showcases other large-scale land art sites in Over Sonoma: Aerial Views of Unusual and Exemplary Land Uses created specifically for this venue. While the upstairs doesn’t as successfully transform the space as the first floor, these shows offer a counterpoint to Turrell’s endeavor to transform land into art. Taken from a small bi-plane, the photographs in Over Sonoma showcase intriguing landscapes located in Sonoma County such as a landfill, a large Buddhist temple and a housing subdivision. The works raise our awareness of our relationship with the land and landscapes. Also using aerial photographs, Formations of Erasure: Earthworks and Entropy revisits earthwork projects from the 70s, such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Michael Heizer’s Double Negative. Looking at how natural processes in the last three decades have transformed those sites, Formation of Erasure, like land art itself, calls into question intention vs. nature and the notion of permanent change in the landscape.
At SMOVA, in its only West Coast appearance, Under Pressure: Prints fromTwo Palms Press, features innovative prints by some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Under the direction of master printer and founder David Lasry, Two Palms Press appears to set itself apart from other presses through the use of heavy handmade papers and unusual printmaking processes. Pedro Barbeito is a young artist whose three dimensional ovoid-stadium-seating-esque prints with central computer-style color blocks were the most interesting (and hardest to describe) prints I had seen in a long time. And in Turning Paper (1998),
Jessica Stockholder contributed some stellar monoprints using bright pink, pools of greens and turquoise, and huge lumps of goo. These items, along with shag carpet, orange peels, an amazing tiger print and bits of a wool sweater address the notion of what is a three-dimensional sculpture vs. a “flat” print. She seemed to (almost) flatten her sculptural concerns of material, color and form into these successful works on paper.
Heavyweight Sol Lewitt contributed some brightly colored, relief printed stars on handmade paper and their printing plates from 1996. With her thin lines and organic shapes Tara Donovan’s Untitled Monoprints (2000) provided a refreshing lightness after the denseness of Lewitt’s and Stockholder’s pieces. David Row’s Untitled Monoprints (1995 and 2000) were beautiful if not particularly unusual medium-size prints. Mel Bochner’s Wittgenstein Quote (2000), a delightful text piece in both German and English, was just what the title stated, a quote from Wittgenstein. Also engaging were Carroll Dunham’s seven monoprints, Waiting for Wood, (1995-96) Untitled and Killer (2000). These wood block reliefs in his signature blues, pinks, greys and blacks evoke Philip Guston (whose work can currently be seen in a retrospective at SFMOMA) in both color and simplicity, and formal power.
Things are happening in the North Bay.