MPC’s Substance and Shadow reverberates with urban electricity.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
The intimate, odd and boxy Monterey Peninsula College Art Gallery is a unique piece itself, but that’s only appropriate for a comprehensive community college art program with an aura of its own.
The walls of the plain white gallery rise to a lofty ceiling with narrow windows along the roofline. Like a blank canvas, it draws droves of artists pitching site-specific installations every year.
The gallery is not obligated to sell art to pay the rent, and with that freedom its curators emphasize works in mediums taught at the college, which currently offers more than 50 art classes and six annual exhibitions.
The mission isn’t so much to showcase its own students to raise funds, but to be a resource for MPC and the surrounding community. As the mission statement reads, the venue seeks to “educate and inspire students in the methods, materials and issues of contemporary art” with shows that might not otherwise gain traction locally.
The gallery is really curriculum for the students, says Director Melissa Pickford.
“We try to select a variety students will relate to, a sense of design and mastery with an interesting idea or concept,” Pickford says. “We host more contemporary, experimental installations.”
Since art lovers and locals can (almost always) attend exhibits for free, it can be community curriculum too. That’s certainly the case with the free-admission show opening this Tuesday, Nov. 20.
Every fall the school puts together a committee of five art instructors to sift through hundreds of submissions to build exhibits of the best student, faculty, regional and national art.
This fall that result is a duo show of sculptures and paintings by Jeanne Heifetz and Krista Svalbonas called Substance and Shadow.
The show is understated compared to fall’s wood-and-metal abstract sculptures by Adon Valenziano, but evocative nonetheless.
Heifetz’s tapestry-like “sculptures” are created by sewing colored glass rods into metal mesh in geometric patterns. Making use of minutely scaled texture and light, she creates a rigid, hanging sheet that looks as brittle as thin glass and as detailed as finely woven silk.
“I just thought it would be perfect for winter. It’s restful, quiet, subtle, [like a] whisper,” Pickford says. “It’s clean and geometric, a little urban.”
Svalbonas’ wax and pastel pieces make use of light with appealing subtlety, an effect she expands onto the gallery’s walls with drawings in between her pieces.
“It’s going to be a symphony of images,” Pickford says.
Her geometric paintings break down squares into smaller series, and next to Heifetz they evoke to the idea of a weaving loom, the compression of fibers into textiles.
But it’s also about bigger, obscure geometry in our lives, Svalbonas says.
“I make art that explores the urban landscape,” she says. “Hard and opaque with spaces that are ill-defined, neither deep nor wide, offering a psychological sense of control and homogeny.”
Light plays on the wax and metal filaments, creating moody art full of blurred boundaries.
If the outgoing fall exhibit by Valenziano – sculptures that look like Dali elephant-walkers, pod-like sculptures, dainty mobiles and others – seemed woody and zoological, this exhibit makes Pickford think of “cold and ice.” The gallery’s five-week art shows often pair artists and include everything from jewelry making and printmaking to woodworking and film, with an intimate and novel feel.
March offered Teresa Cunniff’s site-specific 3-D installation (she sculpts and films what look like enlarged cells and dizzying treetops), and Jennifer Anderson’s broody curios – grainy close-ups of body parts, full of intimate scars and intricate gland systems – in neat oval frames.
On the gallery’s Facebook page, Pickford walks visitors through spring’s painting-and-textile exhibit in a video and offers an impressive song, inviting patrons and students to enroll in Experience the Art workshops to fund the gallery.
The space first opened 20 years ago, after rigorous donor wooing by Pat Bolles, a faculty member who has since retired and passed away. The experimental space quickly became a unique outlet for atypical contemporary art in Monterey, despite running on a shoestring budget. With no other permanent staff, Pickford helps artists install and break down exhibits herself – yet another way the MPC gallery does things a little differently.
SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW runs Nov. 20-Dec. 20, with opening reception and artists talk Dec. 6, 1-2:30pm; daily hours Tu-Fri 11am-4pm. MPC Art Department Gallery, 980 Fremont St., Monterey. Free; $2/parking. 646-3060, www.mpcgallery.com