On a gray morning-ed Wednesday, I impulsively hopped on a bus headed downtown — wandering for a bit before settling at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA). The SBMA is located downtown on State Street and is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Monday. Evident by the expanse of ground covered in this article, this museum carries a tremendous range in the art it displays — from Renaissance paintings to contemporary photography to experimental sculpture work, the SBMA tastefully has it all.
The first exhibit I was confronted with was “Out of Joint” — aquatic netting grows out of the otherwise clean white wall, beside it a description of the local artist, Joan Tanner. Tanner has been working for decades, creating unorthodox pieces from orthodox materials.
The multidisciplinary artist has created vividly feverish sculptures, such as what is pictured above (and what lies on the other end of the shellac-stained umbilical cord), as well as sketches and smaller works — her “donottellmewhereibelong” and “Staunch Drawing” series are worth noting, the latter pictured below.
While critiquing this piece, I saw a house continuing to burn, and a blood-red sea continuing to run. Entropy flows downwards into a screaming pit, the great waterfall falling upwards like some geyser before it eventually freezes staunchly solid.
I felt myself “fall upwards” to the main upstairs exhibition “Scenes from A Marriage,” from Ed and Nancy Kienholz. This installation is strikingly honest, and provocative in its absurd take on mundanity. The artists explore their matrimony in frightening detail and ruminate on the concept of the modern American family. The depth communicated by simple details such as the sculptures’ physical language and the metaphor of the television in both pieces shown here is refreshing in its simple yet intense imagery. It doesn’t take an art expert to appreciate these pieces — yet no nuance is lost in this exhibit’s accessibility. It is fascinating to be a fly on the Kienholz family wall.
The classical (mostly European) paintings are, I believe, always there — yet they are not to be overlooked. I was particularly touched by “Pleasures of the Evening,” painted by Parisian romantic Jean Baptiste Camille Corot.
The piece’s description explains how in French, a ‘souvenir’ can be a dreamlike, poetic landscape, emerging from emotion-tinged memory. This painting is a dance through the orange afterglow of life, one of the final works of Corot before his death. We cannot see what lies behind the tree line; indeed, we can hardly make out the figures in the foreground. The people blend into the bushes and trees, painted in the same colors. They are one and the same; the Earth, via Corot, simultaneously celebrates its own life and death.
“The Iconography of Dread” is my personal favorite exhibit currently at SBMA. Exploring dark surrealism in art through many different artists and disciplines, the rooms and hallways of this exhibit do not fill one with dread so much as an appreciation for the intense imaginations of the artists. Austrian Alfred Kubin is a standout — his illustrations, although small and unassuming from a distance, are packed with twisted absurdity.
Pictured above is “The Best Doctor” — with it, Kubin’s dark sense of humor and distinctive style. My favorite work of his displayed is titled “The Fate of Mankind;” if you want to find out our fate, go get on the 24X and see for yourself. I can’t do everything for you.
This exhibit is important because we human beings often don’t want to acknowledge darkness — indeed, many of us are terrified of it, and rightly so. Most of us would rather sit in the sun and smile, especially here. That being said, I’ll regurgitate a tired idiom and remind you that there is no light without darkness — it is a necessary, unavoidable aspect of the human condition. For the sake of a well-rounded, fulfilled life, we must at least acknowledge it; even better if we try to understand it. And if we do understand it and our relation to it, we will be all the more prepared when night does inevitably fall. To ignore and reject darkness is to ignore and reject humanity — to embrace it is to become whole.
But you don’t have to take me at my word—go explore this exhibit and the others for yourself. The SBMA is free for students… need I say more?