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Getting High In Santa Barbara

One doesn't need an excuse to travel to Santa Barbara, but if you feel that you need one, I'll give you two. There is a knockout retrospective of San Francisco-based artist David Ireland at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and an exhibition of Marsha Glazer top-notch private collection at the U.C. Santa Barbara Art Museum.

Starting his career relatively late, when he was 42 years old, David Ireland brought to his art the freewheeling experience of the preceding years when he "led people on safaris through Africa, sold insurance, worked as a carpenter, and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro." Organized by the Oakland Museum, this traveling exhibition has arrived in Santa Barbara where it's been expertly installed in the main galleries to maximum effect.

The idiosyncratic art of David Ireland is not for everyone. Definitely it's not for traditionally minded folks who look for "nice" paintings and "well-behaved" sculptures that might look good in their living rooms. David Ireland's art, more often than not, is made from discarded household objects such as 3-legged chairs, old useless brooms, chopped wood and a ten-year accumulation of the cardboard cores of toilet paper rolls. Several hundred of such cardboard cores are carefully stacked in a white wooden cabinet behind glass, as if they were museum specimens, staring at you through their round eyes. On a shelf underneath are two lonely cans of Comet cleanser. The final touch of the installation is a white stool that sits as if in front of a woman's vanity table. The artist invites us to contemplate a poetic juxtaposition of opposites: impurity versus cleanliness, imperfection versus perfect order. The exhibition makes you understand and respond to the vulnerability, gentle humor and inherent elegance of David Ireland's artworks, resolutely made from the most unelegant materials. For example, he loves cement and once used a whole sack of it, smearing it on paper and canvas, producing a series of very good drawings and paintings.

In the center of the main gallery there is a pile of several dozen garden statues lying down in a perfect circle, while an angel suspended from the ceiling rotates above as if blessing the fallen statuary. Looking at this installation titled "Angel-Go-Round", I thought of the recent commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Allies' bombing of the city of Dresden during the waning days of World War II, in which thousands of civilians were killed.

Tucked in the outskirts of the idyllic city of Santa Barbara is the University Art Museum, where Seattle-based private collector Marsha Glaser has allowed her collection to be seen publicly for the first time ever -- and what a collection it is. Only after a dozen or so years of collecting, Marsha Glaser has distinguished herself from the legion of well-to-do collectors who compete for flashy artworks by "blue chip" artists. Her choices demonstrate that she has the so-called proverbial "eye" for art, a rarity not only among collectors but even among professional museum curators.

At the entrance to the exhibition is a unique bronze cast of a life-sized female figure by Picasso, which alone is worth, as they say, the price of admission. "California Art Collector", the 1964 iconic painting by David Hockney from his most sought-after period, is a reminder of the tremendous vitality once enjoyed by the artist. The tour de force of the collection is the monumental six-panel painting by Jasper Johns also from 1964. If I were Eli Broad, I'd fire all my advisors for not getting this impossibly beautiful artwork for my own collection. I hope that Marsha Glazer is not only blessed with an enviable "eye" but also possesses a heightened sense of responsibility toward this masterpiece. Need an example of that? The late Marcia Weissman, who understood the privilege of living with great works of art, magnanimously donated the best of her collection to a public museum.

"The Art of David Ireland: The Way Things Are"
December 11, 2004 - March 13, 2005
Santa Barbara Museum of Art 1130 State Street
Santa Barbara CA 93101-2746
(805) 963-4364

"OUT OF SITE: Selections from the Marsha S. Glazer Collection"
January 5 - February 27, 2005
University Art Museum
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
(805) 893-7564

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