In this semi-regular department, arts editor Seth Combs reviews a notable new art show or exhibition.
I like a good roundup exhibition of local art as much as the next critic. Whether it's thematic (seen all those tributary Prince and David Bowie art shows lately?) or simply meant to show off contemporary artists who wouldn't otherwise get to show their work in a gallery space, it's always nice to see so many new names all at once. While these types of shows are never particularly useful for understanding one particular artist's work, they can be a means to get an artist on our respective radars.
Such is the case with 50 to Watch, a biennial exhibition of new works from, naturally, 50 up-and-coming regional artists. The show at The Studio Door in North Park (3750 30th St.), which is up through May 18, was juried by Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Curatorial Manager Jenna Siman Jacobs and Mingei Chief Curator Christine Hietbrink, and includes a smorgasbord of new works in every conceivable medium. Quite honestly, it's a lot to take in and The Studio Door's rather quaint space makes it very difficult to truly get a sense of why I should be watching these artists in the first place. The exhibition takes focus and time, but there are gems to be found.
I was touched by Ally Benbrook's moving watercolor portraits of local homeless people and their dogs. While the paintings were certainly not as blatant and grandiose as fellow local Neil Shigley's brilliant series of Invisible People portraits, Benbrook has a subtlety in her strokes that made me want to know more about her subjects. Photographers like Jeff Caffarel and Lisa Layne Griffiths both presented impressive representations of their very different approach to the medium, while abstractionist Christopher Conroe's mix of acrylic and ink on paper had me attempting to visualize his excellent use of geometric form and vibrant color for days after.
Since it will happen every two years, 50 to Watch has the potential to grow into a respected and authoritative showcase of the best artists our city has to offer. For the moment, however, 50 to Watch is much more like many of the artists in the show itself. Young, derivative and not fully formed yet, but well on its way to being something unique.