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Arts & Power

San Diego’s visual arts scene has never been so captivating. We present the tastemakers, the rule breakers and the big-deal venues.

Architect William T. Georgis in his art-filled La Jolla home, dubbed the Akropolis.

This year’s biggest coup for the S.D. art scene might just be the La Jolla arrival of boldface New York architect William T. Georgis ( and his partner, power curator Richard D. Marshall. The debonair couple didn’t waste a second delving in to all that the city has to offer.

For their new hillside home perched above the Pacific—a midcentury fixer-upper that Georgis renovated and christened the Akropolis—the two tapped local artist and longtime friend Kim MacConnel to paint lacquered murals in eye-popping hues. They also commissioned a large piece by Barbara Kruger that reads “BE HERE NOW.”

This past summer, Georgis feted the release of his first book, Make It Fabulous, at MCASD in La Jolla. And he and Marshall, a former curator at the Whitney, have been hitting up museums, galleries and studios all over town.

“San Diego is blessed not only by its beauty, but also by its arts organizations and artists,” says Georgis, who hangs out with inspiring pals like MCASD director Hugh M. Davies and MacConnel and his wife, artist Jean Lowe. “The La Jolla Playhouse, MCASD and the Mingei are world-class institutions.”

Among the couple’s favorite local discoveries so far? Sculptor Chris Puzio and ceramicist Josh Herman. Good thing they still have ample space in their art-filled lair.

The Museum of Contemporary Art ( continues its powerhouse status—and not just with its annual gala, Monte Carlo, which was one of the most talked-about soirees of the season (thanks to art ambassador Kelsey Brookes). This winter, the La Jolla campus is hosting a thoughtful and star-studded exhibit. But one would expect nothing less, considering it is a tribute to the late David C. Copley, one of S.D.’s most altruistic patrons of the arts, who passed away suddenly earlier this year. Titled X-TO + J-C: Christo and Jeanne-Claude, it features works from Copley’s vast collection including those by his friend Christo, the world-reknown environmental artist who has draped Central Park in saffron-colored fabric. Christo himself will be in town for the opening and a public lecture Jan. 31 (Copley’s birthday). “This will honor one of MCASD’s most passionate and generous trustees,” says Hugh M. Davies. “David was a tremendous friend of the museum, and he was a great friend to Christo.”

“They’re enormous, but they don’t feel that way,” says Lynda Forsha, project director of the Murals of La Jolla (, an initiative of the La Jolla Community Foundation. This year alone, six new murals have been erected throughout the village, featuring a roster of international art stars, including Gajin Fugita and Catherine Opie, who riffed on a surf scene at La Jolla Shores. “It’s really atmospheric and dreamy,” says Forsha, who was a curator for 13 years at MCASD. Most recently, there’s the collaboration project of local artists Robert Irwin and Philipp Scholz Rittermann gracing Jonathan’s parking lot. When she’s not commissioning murals for the remaining 16 canvases, she’s hunting down art for the private collections of S.D.’s most discerning collectors ( Here, she is photographed in a client’s foyer with a piece by Irwin and giant stacked plates by Robert Therrien, an artist who transforms elements of everyday objects. “I’ve always been a huge fan of his work. Back in 1994, we exhibited his oversized tables and chairs,” she says, noting that high-profile collector Eli Broad has since acquired them. She is also decking out the corporate world with clients like Qualcomm and the ResMed, whose HQ boasts works by Ed Ruscha and Scottish sculptor Anya Gallaccio. “I scour the contemporary art world, navigating galleries, museums and studios in pursuit of what’s new and interesting.” She counts the S.D. arts scene as an ever-evolving one. “It used to be when there was an art opening, everyone in the San Diego art world would be there because it was the only thing happening,” she laughs. “Now, there are so many factions.”

Oceanside Museum of Art ( continues to surprise with its cutting-edge offerings and cool collaborations. For its latest exhibition—presented in conjunction with Balboa Park’s San Diego Center—the museum brought on Bram Dijkstra, whose multi-hyphenate career includes author, art scholar, UCSD professor, museum catalog writer and local curator. Along with a panel of other S.D. insiders, Dijkstra selected around 25 area artists for Nature Improved: San Diego Artists Interpret Our Landscape, one of four nature-themed shows at OMA right now. The works remind that even the most familiar sights can become fresh and exciting again in the imaginations of artists.

Another batch of creatives is Barrio-bound thanks to Bread & Salt, a former Weber’s bread factory in Barrio Logan. Public Architecture and Planning transformed the 40,000-square-foot warehouse—originally built in 1891—into its new HQ, with enough space leftover to create a blockwide hub of arts and culture. There’s even an open courtyard. “We’ve got a lot going on here,” laughs Public principal James Brown.

Artist Michael James Armstrong and his gallery partner, Thomas DeMello, jumped at the chance to reopen ICE Gallery at Bread & Salt after his former space in North Park was razed to make way for Jonathan Segal’s North Parker. Brown even let him choose the perfect spot for ICE, an untraditional gallery that invites artists to do site-specific installations. This January, they’ll debut their hard-earned digs with a new work by DeMello.

Meanwhile, SDMA opened an artist-in-residency space, currently occupied by public artist Roberto Salas, and octogenarian artist Bob Matheny is curating at Not an Exit, his 5-by-8 foot gallery. He’s already exhibited local artists Jessica McCambly and Vallo Riberto, and will showcase works by Raymond Beaver this month. Other artists and designers, like Jason Lane of Gollypods and Bells & Whistles, have set up shop as well. Arts organization Art Pulse—which produces a same-titled TV show generating local buzz—moved its gallery and production offices from Liberty Station to Bread & Salt. There’s also a gallery called Pal y Sal in the works, and in the near future, a cool-concept cafe. Because no micro-neighborhood is complete without one.

San Diego lost a local arts icon when Mingei ( founder Martha Longenecker passed away in October at the age of 93. Longenecker, a lifelong artist, educator and museum director, opened the internationally acclaimed Mingei in 1978, its name a Japanese term meaning “art of the people.” When she retired in 2005, the craft-centric museum had a collection of more than 17,000 objects from 140 countries, not to mention more than 100,000 visitors yearly.

Current Mingei director Rob Sidner worked with Longenecker for 13 years. “She was an inspiring and generous mentor,” he says. “She had the most developed eye I have known and a marvelous artistic imagination.”

Her legacy continues to evolve with shows like Please Be Seated, which elevates sitting to an art form, with more than 90 examples of chairs, from ancient floor mats to modern collectibles. In January, the it is hosting a quasi-retrospective of NYC’s easy-on-the-eyes Ladd brothers, who make gorgeous jewelry.

In fact every Mingei show syncs up with Longenecker’s favorite ancient Chinese saying: Creativity is perseverance through to completion.

It was no surprise when Josh Herman’s ( canoe chalice made a cameo appearance on the TV show Revenge. Hollywood loves Herman, from A-list actors to celeb designers like Kelly Wearstler. Luckily for San Diego, Herman isn’t the Hollywood type. And with a new 4,000-square-foot HQ in Barrio Logan, along with new digs in La Jolla, the in-demand ceramicist is looking to stay put for the long haul.

Herman, whose work is carried at Design Within Reach and the Getty Museum Store, recently expanded his line to include smaller objects, such as petite bud vases, pods, bottles and bowls. Available in vibrant hues like tangerine and turquoise, they feature Herman’s distinctive pockmarked volcanic glaze.

“I wanted to create something accessible,” says Herman. “Anybody can make a connection with the function, size and price.”
Eventually, he’s hoping to add everyday housewares to the mix, from coffee mugs to lighting fixtures. And then there’s his penchant for interior design. After sprucing up his studio inside and out, he’s teamed up with Boomerang Modern’s Dave Skelley to bring impeccable MCM style to his family’s low-slung A-frame in La Jolla. Sure to be standouts? Ceramic finishes like a pottery screen, cabinet pulls and fireplace tiles, all handmade by Herman.

“I’m in L.A. and New York a lot, but I prefer the way people view art here in San Diego,” says photographer Charles Bergquist ( “There’s a lot of collaborating.” Bergquist has become known for his sun-drenched, psychedelic imagery that has graced albums covers for Tycho. Most recently he has been tapped to do the visuals for the musician’s upcoming world tour. “I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time so working with him now is really cool,” says Bergquist, who shares his studio space with his German shepherd, Bear. Not all of Bergquist’s work is dreamy and abstract. Most recently, he was enlisted by the award-winning Vice Network to produce several documentaries. For this media company, no topic is off-limits, be it a story about a Russian oligarch or rape cases in Bolivia. For Bergquist, it was the impact of oil spills in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. Locally, Bergquist finds inspiration chronicling fellow S.D. artists Chris Puzio and Miki Iwasaki. And he’s constantly searching the vast San Diego landscape for location inspiration. “L.A. is so overshot. There’s much more territory to cover here.”

The Tijuana arts scene has never been so exciting. The must-sees? The new glass and concrete cultural center, CEART, by famed architect Eugenio Velazquez. And on the gallery front, Arturo Rodriguez continues to defy convention with La Caja Gallery (, where multisensory openings feature boldface Mexican artists like Pablo Llana. Collector alert? High.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most genre-defying artist of them all? Right now it might just be Eleanor Antin, with her new darkly comic coming-of-age memoir, Conversations With Stalin. And this past summer, her witty and compelling self-portraits were on display at Columbia University. The exhibit, Selves, showcases the renowned San Diego artist’s alter egos—among them, the King of Solana Beach and black ballerina Eleanora Antinova—subjects with a feminist bent that she’s explored for nearly half a century through many mediums, including performance art, video and photography. Antin, the daughter of communist immigrants, has also been busy dropping by the Hammer and LACMA to give readings from the new book. “I’m very young, and he is my confidante,” Antin explains. “I talk to him about everything, even sex.” Her favorite review so far? A critic who wasn’t sure if it was a memoir or a novel. “I’m delighted to still be impossible to pin down,” she quips. Keep eyes peeled for local book signings.

When ARTnews magazine presents its annual list of the world’s top 200 collectors, it’s always brilliant news for San Diego, thanks to the Rancho Santa Fe collection of Matt and Iris Strauss, along with its Strauss Family Foundation, which continually makes the list. Fortunately for us, the family shares its priceless works with not just the Louvre, but with S.D. institutions. “The foundation strives to feature younger, emerging artists,” says Tamara Strauss, the foundation’s curator and a second-gen collector. In February, USD will be hosting a follow-up to last year’s Game Changer, featuring 13 of the family’s paintings and sculptures. “All of these works pack a punch,” says Derrick Cartwright, director of USD’s galleries. “The exhibit will undoubtedly change the way my students feel about contemporary art and its impact.” Meanwhile, downtown at MCASD, a stunning sculpture by Nelson Leirner is on display, featuring Grecian statutes with a Lucite pingpong table, replete with a soundtrack. “It mixes classical and contemporary,” says Strauss. “It’s such a clever piece.”

“We knew the story was strong. We knew the filmmakers were good, but we didn’t realize she’d be on the Oscar stage,” says Matt D’Arrigo, founder of A Reason To Survive (, which was thrust into the national spotlight when a documentary film, Inocente about one of his students, Inocente Izucar, won for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. “The film validated our program. It’s focused on one kid but Inocente represents so many of the kids here,” says D’Arrigo, who has been traveling with the 19-year-old for appearances around the country, raising awareness of the film and the cause so dear to him. When D’Arrigo was young, his mother and sister were diagnosed with cancer, and he turned to art, discovering the power of creativity and its ability to transform lives. Started 12 years ago as an outreach program, ARTS has served thousands of San Diego children, and is now housed in a new National City HQ. “With the arts getting cut at schools, unless there is a systemic change, we need programs like mine.”

The space is small, just like its petite owner, but JDC Fine Art ( has outsize ambition. Chicago transplant Jennifer DeCarlo reps museum-quality artists at her contemporary photography gallery in Little Italy. And she doesn’t shy away from edgy subjects.

Since opening two years ago, she’s shown powerful transgender portraits by Jess Dugan and Jennifer Greenburg’s fantasy-tinged studies of today’s rockabilly subculture alongside the artist’s revisionary takes on 1950s snapshots.

“The artists I show are saying something important right now,” says the up-and-coming gallerist. “We’re recording our histories and sometimes that challenges us. But these things have a lot of potential to be important pieces in the future.”

She’s also exhibited world-class photographers like Guatemala’s Luis Gonzalez Palma, who uses gold-leaf transparencies to create a patina evocative of old Christian icons, and Argentinean Guillermo Srodek-Hart, whose nostalgic work sells out wherever it’s shown.
Part of DeCarlo’s mission is to spark the collector instinct in young people. “It’s a tough market, but photography is accessible,” she says. “We can get them in for the parties, but we want them to stay for the art.”

Next up at JDC: extra-large photographs of fountains in Vegas from local talent Paul Turounet.

The number of spherical LED lights suspended from the ceiling, spanning 6 feet wide and 700 feet long, as part of Jim Campbell’s “The Journey,” a commissioned piece at the S.D. Airport’s new Terminal 2. Look up and you’ll see flying birds or a swimmer cutting through water. The light changes as you pass beneath it, morphing from solid and linear to ephemeral.

When ballyhooed sculptor Matt Devine opened an artists’ co-op, the Glashaus (, in an old glass factory in Barrio Logan five years ago, he was onto something big. No surprise there, considering the artist’s Midas touch (Tom Ford recently commissioned one of his handsome steel chairs). Glashaus continues its allure with a new roster of big-name artists, including master woodworker Wendy Maruyama, who heads the woodworking department at SDSU, and, fittingly, glassblower Kathleen Mitchell, an instructor from the former UCSD glassblowing department. In addition to 16 artist studios, the foyer, dubbed MainSpace, hosts rotating exhibits of residents’ work.

When it comes to minimalist but mind-bending art, Adam Belt ( takes after some of SoCal’s finest. The Carlsbad-based artist—who had his second solo show at Quint Contemporary Art ( this fall—is a direct descendent of the Light and Space Movement of the ‘70s, which used shapes and light to alter the environment and play with perception. The title of Belt’s latest show, Longview, is partly a nod to local Light and Space legend Bob Irwin—one of Belt’s biggest inspirations for his infinity mirrors—installations inspired by giant telescope mirrors or particle accelerator detectors. Also repped by Quint, the 85-year-old Irwin is continuously booked, most recently with installations at the Whitney and Vienna’s Secession.

“His long-term view of art is as an unbridled quest that you follow regardless of whether it stays within the arbitrary constraints of the art world,” says Belt, in full-production mode for Miami and L.A. Art Fairs. He also beat out thousands for an exhibition in the works from the Walmart Foundation.

At Quint, Belt’s “Through the Looking Glass (after the Giant Magellan Telescope)” was a particular showstopper, with guests striking poses.

“I wanted to reconnect and offer a more contemplative experience,” says Belt.