What is the typical art museum experience if not just looking at a bunch of stuff owned by rich people? The writing is almost always (literally) written on the wall, usually in the form of the stock white placard that reads "On loan from...," "From the collection of..." or other derivations of the same sentiment.
It'd be hard to get over this fact when it comes to San Diego Collects (at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla through Jan. 10) if the exhibition itself wasn't such a treat for art lovers. The show features more than 50 works spanning nearly 70 years and in almost every conceivable medium and style. The amassed works were culled from almost two-dozen local private collections. To view them all can be an undertaking, as there's seemingly no thematic order to the way the works are presented other than the "Collects" theme itself.
The problem with San Diego Collects is the overstatement of the title itself. While it must have been a huge curatorial undertaking to compile all these works, the title of the show feels desperate. It screams, "Hey, look at us! We have people here that love art! We're not just a sleepy beachside town with no culture and a lot of beer." Here's the thing: Every major city has affluent art collectors. This is not something that distinguishes San Diego. The fact that the curators felt the need to make that the focus and the title just feels insecure.
Still, San Diego Collects is inspiring, or at least, it can be. Hopefully, it inspires smaller galleries to throw similar shows with more underground and fringe art that their friends and patrons have collected through the years. More importantly, it's certainly conceivable that someone might leave Collects feeling inspired to, well, collect, even if they don't have the money, advice or resources of some of the names on those white placards.