THE DIVERSE ALTERNATIVE GALLERY SCENE IN SAN JOSE:

THE INSTITUTIONS AND THE UPSTARTS

MACLA

San Jose, with its enormous Latino population, adores MACLA / Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana on South First Street. Founded by the incomparable force of Maribel Alvarez and Eva Terrazas, and now under the direction of another high-energy duo, Tamara Alvarado and Anjee Helstrup Alvarez, MACLA is an art and theatre space that has set the pace for community involvement in the downtown neighborhoods.

Like Works, MACLA began as an alternative space, giving Latino artists more opportunity to show and a site where their culture and point of view could be celebrated. Yet, like Works and many other San Jose exhibition sites, it straddles the extremes between completely unconventional alternatives and museum standards. It incorporates all the professional traditions such as insurance, transportation and careful installation of the art, thoughtfully painted walls, advance publicity, an extensive curator’s statement, a public reception and even pays an honorarium to its artists. The art can cater to both highbrow and lowbrow tastes. Chicano resistance, protest art, youth and self-taught artists from the community are shown along with artists educated in academe and mainstream Latino artists that touch on all the broad issues that contemporary artists engage.

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MACLA artists work in theatre, spoken word and music

MACLA does outreach to other language and ethnic traditions, as well, with investigations into cultures such as the black and Caribbean that have particularly impacted Latin culture, or issues such as the mixed race experience.

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Viewers Enjoy the Chicana/o Biennale

This summer, MACLA’s Chicana/o Biennale gives Latino artists born in the United States a visual forum for expression of those identity issues born of the immigrant experience of their elders. Sometimes it is a celebration of the uniqueness of the community and its emerging traditions. Other times, the Chicano artist is stridently political and outspoken on behalf of the social and economic concerns of that community.

MACLA’s poetry slams, Brave New Voices 2007, held in the Castellano Playhouse this summer, offers a venue for young poets of many backgrounds to speak of the emotions, passions and often otherwise-unspeakable experiences of their times. A collaboritve venture of MACLA and Youth Speaks, Brave New Voices is an international competition that brings together 400 young writers from all over the country, reading and performing their own writing, with the Grand Slam finals being held in the San Jose’s California Theatre.

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MACLA’s 2006 Poetry Slam Team

Of all San Jose’s alternative spaces, MACLA probably presents the most consistently thoughtful and deep artistic research into social issues.

MACLA <www.maclaarte.org>

THE MUSEUM OF QUILTS AND TEXTILES

The Museum of Quilts and Textiles, next door to MACLA, is another site with feet in two camps. Why is that? What is a museum, if not the establishment? According to Jane Przybysz, Director of the Museum of Quilts and Textiles, “We are here to address the gender and cultural biases of mainstream museums and commercial galleries.”

Organizations that dedicate themselves to showing and collecting any textile arts are rare, and an important resource for artists and viewers that appreciate these historically marginalized art forms. As a measure of the challenge undertaken by Museum Director Przybysz in establishing a permanent home for Quilts and Textiles in San Jose, she talks about the “C” word and the “Q” word. Quilting conjures up the pastimes of little old ladies (who, outside of Grandma Moses, are assumed to be unimaginative), and crafts conjures up notions of whirligigs and wooden ducks executed as a weekend hobby. Further, working with fibers and textiles is denigrated because it seems to require a “low point of entry”, (i.e. anyone can do it). Przybysz points out that CCAC in Oakland, has become the California College of Art (dropping the word craft) and the American Museum of Crafts, has changed its name to the Museum of Art and Design. Apparently, crafts and quilts frighten audiences and art collectors who want to believe they are a part of an exclusive club of “conoseurship”, and can be a kiss of death in fundraising. And still, a Museum of Quilts and Textiles has successfully put down roots in Silicon Valley.

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Lisa Jensen and Jane Przybysz in the Museum Shop

Kathryn Funk, independent curator and former director of the San Jose ICA says, “I don‚Äôt like to get into that argument about art vs. craft. Every good artist is ‘crafting’ something, whether it is functional or not. Things made of fabric just tug at me. I am a quilt lover, myself.” Funk goes on to recall the experience of a favorite quilt made by her grandmother — its patterns, textures and smell after drying on the lawn. “I think textiles are more accessible to people without an art background.” Funk points to a recent exhibition of the quilts by renown international artist Jean Ray Laury shown at the Museum. “I personally know people who came from Portland, Oregon, to see the show. When we showed Laury’s work at the Fresno Museum of Art, people came from all over, in busloads of 60 to 90, to see her quilts.”

And if quilts and textiles appear to be the province of women alone, consider the Museums’ recent exhibition of Oaxacan tapestries from Teotitlan del Valle, woven equally by women as by men. Look at the tapestries of Bay Area artist, Don Farnsworth.

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Knit bombs and rockets rain down in Quilt Museum lobby

Demonstrating the degree to which the Museum of Quilts and Textiles also addresses the timely and topical, the summer calendar includes three exhibitions that explore themes of war, patriotism and politics: Woven Witness – Afghan War Rugs, Patriot Art and Weavings of War, Fabrics of Memory. Concurrent with these shows are demonstrations by artists and panel discussions by scholars, humanitarians, art historians, textile collectors and relief workers in war zones. One panel, meeting on September 23 at 2:00 pm, asks the question “Can art build peace?” and reflects on peace building strategies worldwide.

Museum of Quilts and Textiles <www.sjquiltmuseum.org>

THE HERITAGE BANK

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Art and Banking at the Heritage Bank

In 1994 Jane Salvin began to curate exhibitions in the Heritage Bank. Expectations for art exhibitions in a bank at that time were pretty low. But Salvin, who had formerly curated exhibitions at the d.p.Fong and Spratt Galleries, rejected the standard watercolor landscapes, flower still lives and other conservative themes that could not possibly offend or confound the general public. Strongly committed to the belief that San Jose is rich with mature contemporary artists, Salvin began presenting their art on the walls, in the offices and in the conference rooms of the first floor of the Bank. Now, the art community has taken notice and employees and patrons of the bank have embraced this thirteen-year old series of quarterly exhibitions. The amazing success of the Heritage Bank program has transpired with little publicity other than the invitations to the openings that require an r.s.v.p., and word of mouth. It has earned praise for the careful curatorial selections of contemporary art, and the effectiveness of its installations within a workplace setting. (See ARTSHIFT. San Jose, – Spring 2007)

Heritage Bank Exhibitions <janesalvin@yahoo.com>

ART OBJECT GALLERY

Ken Matsumoto opened Art Object Gallery in April of 2000. A large warehouse in Japantown houses the handsome gallery space as well as Matsumoto’s more rustic studio. Matsumoto went together with a few other artists to combine mailing lists, share expenses, feature three or four artists at a time and “hope for the best”. This worked well for a number of years. Now, Matsumoto self-effacingly describes the endeavor as “a gallery with tremendous potential in need of proper management.” He says, “I have yet to find the balance between gallery operation and management of my own sculpture career. I am open to suggestions from curators and artists. I know I am very fortunate to have this amazing space and hope to be here ten years from now.” If this sounds like the gallery is at turning point, perhaps this is so, but not at a crisis.

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Ken Matsumoto celebrates Art Object’s Artists’ Studio Clearance Sale

In Art Object Gallery one can see the work of respected mid-career artists who, like Matsumoto himself, have a long-term relationship to the South Bay. Diane Levinson is a ceramics artist who teaches at Bellarmine College Prep. (See ARTSHIFT, San Jose, Spring 2007). Levinson has begun to curate exhibitions of ceramics in the new upstairs gallery, whre her own work may be seen as well. Terry Kreiter casts his bronze sculpture in a backyard foundry in Santa Clara. Darrell Phelps also works in bronze. Jaap Bongers, head of the art program at the exceptional Harker School, does mixed media constructions that describe aspects of landscape through layers of glass, photography and hardware. Kelly Detwiler and Reid Winfrey are painters. Duncan McCandless does beautiful small landscapes with surprising light qualities. Joe Saxe’s small oil paintings describe quirky interplay between robots and humans. Victoria May is a sculptor from Santa Cruz whose works in transparent fabrics are often suspended in space. Margaret Michel brings her widely recognized kinetic sculpture back from France to show at Art Object Gallery. These and other accomplished artists have make up a very attractive calendar of exhibitions.

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Art lovers congregate in a spirited opening at Art Object Gallery

On First Fridays, local audiences faithfully visit Matsumoto’s exhibitions before or after a tour of the downtown scene. Exhibitions that are guest-curated or somewhat unconventional like the current studio-clearance sale also capture attention and bring a casual, festive atmosphere to the Art Object Gallery.

Art Object Gallery <ken@artobjectgallery.com>

One Response to “Part II: SAN JOSE’S “ALTERNATIVE” GALLERIES”

I am looking for an artist that painted landscapes of South Padre Island in 1973. The works (2) are signed D.McCandless 193/73. They are watercolors of the dunes and one of the jetties.
Any luck it is the Duncan McCandless here?