Sept. 19 2012 12:37 AM

San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Timken Museum of Art combine forces

Robert Henri’s “Bernardita,” from the San Diego Museum of Art’s permanent collection

When it comes to visual art, San Diego has long suffered from an inferiority complex. New York, Paris and Mexico City are the giants in the art world, overshadowing other cities, with firm grips on major collectors, important art museums and big-name artists. American art as a whole, in fact, sometimes struggles for respect. It's not as old and, therefore, often not considered as important as European or Asian art, critics say.

"American art does sometimes get slighted, which makes it more interesting to me," says Amy Galpin, project curator at the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA).

Galpin headed up Behold, America! Art of the United States from Three San Diego Museums, a collaborative exhibition showcasing American art from the permanent collections of SDMA, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) and the Timken Museum of Art.

"The United States is such a frontier country," Galpin says. "Its existence does not span thousands of years; it's just hundreds of years, and I think the art in this country speaks to that. It's always trying to catch up, be better, be bold, be innovative, and taking influence from other cultures while creating something new—something distinct."

Behold, America! marks the first time that the three art institutions have collaborated. Galpin says it made sense to showcase American art and use the opportunity to go through the museums' eclectic collections to piece together a comprehensive story—and add in a little San Diego flavor. Even if the art wasn't made by a San Diego artist, Galpin points out, much of the work came from the donations of San Diego collectors.

The exhibition began with a preview on Sunday, Sept. 16, at MCASD's La Jolla location, and opens in full at all three museums on Nov. 10, remaining on view through Feb. 10. 

The show's organized into three categories: figures, forms and frontiers (portraits, abstract works and landscapes, with some room for conceptual works). Figures will be on view at SDMA, frontiers at MCASD and forms mostly at the Timken, with a few larger works at SDMA and MCASD. Artist talks are lined up through the exhibition's duration, and a big symposium is set for Nov. 10.

"I'm excited to see 19th-century seascapes at MCASD," Galpin says. "I just think that will be really fascinating. And I'm excited to see minimalism at the Timken."

The ambitious show spans from the late 18th century through 2009 and features 175 selections by 144 artists, including Robert Henri, Georgia O'Keeffe, Cindy Sherman, Robert Irwin, Hugo Crosthwaite, Thomas Sully, Agnes Martin, John Singleton Copley, Andy Warhol and Sarah Sze, the installation artist representing the United States at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Galpin hopes the exhibition, along with the thick accompanying catalogue, will help put San Diego's prestigious American-art collection on the map. She also wants to help boost the confidence of a city that continues to strive to be known for more than its comfortable climate.

"The community really should be excited and proud that we have all this great art here," Galpin says.

More Art

A beautiful day in the—: Brandon Roth is transforming the Voz Alta Project gallery into his neighborhood with a landscape installation that's 8 feet tall, spans 52 feet and will display his paintings. Roth will mix elements of graffiti, animals and people to examine issues like gentrification for Neighborhoods, an exhibit opening at the gallery (1754 National Ave. in Barrio Logan) on Sept. 28. Free.  

Contemporary snap-shots: There's a free opening reception for The Art of Photography 2012 exhibit on Sept. 29 at the San Diego Art Institute (1439 El Prado in Balboa Park). In its eighth year, the juried competition had 16,905 submissions by artists from 77 countries. Gala guests will receive a free copy of the 80-page catalogue with all of the featured photography, plus artist statements and a forward by judge Julian Cox. Refreshments will be served. The show runs through Nov. 11. 

Arty month: The San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture will present Fall for the Arts, a celebration throughout October in conjunction with National Arts and Humanities Month. A free kick-off celebration will happen on Oct. 5 at Liberty Station's NTC Arts and Culture District, where studios and galleries will be open, along with free art, dance, film and music performances. Special programming will be presented throughout the month at museums and cultural institutions.

Group thing: Mesa College will host a group show of political posters and graphics designed by San Diego, Los Angeles and Bay Area artists, including Lalo Alcarez, Chikle, Sonia Lopez-Chavez and Favianna Rodriguez. AgitPOP opens on Oct. 11 at the Art Gallery (7250 Mesa College Drive, Room D104).

Spooky fun: An homage to the classic Halloween imagery that haunted our dreams back in the day, Subtext's Ghosts of Halloween Past exhibit features the works of 10 artists from San Diego and beyond. Nostalgic folk art in a variety of mediums will explore the holiday's lore. It opens on Oct. 12 at Subtext (2479 Kettner Blvd. in Little Italy). 

Art that's dark: Marianela de la Hoz takes a critical look at religion and how it affects women and motherhood by creating an altarpiece of 11 of her surrealist paintings, which tell the story of Eve in a modern context. De la Hoz's solo show Heaven and Earth, the Determined Freedom of an Undetermined Life opens at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park on Oct. 13.

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