Sneer, if you wish, at the name of Palm Springs Desert Museum’s latest exhibition, but The True Artist is an Amazing Luminous Fountain lives up to its name. It’s a bright show of nonconformist, contemporary San Francisco Bay Area works selected from di Rosa Preserve in Napa. The moniker repeats Bruce Nauman’s 1966 installation of cutout letters arranged along the perimeter of a doorframe — a wacky, Willy Wonka-ish welcome to a wild, West Coast show.
That’s not to say the exhibition lacks serious, quality works. On the contrary, the 44 paintings, sculptures, and ceramic pieces represent a Who’s Who in Northern California art. Some pieces, such as Robert Arneson’s glazed ceramic War head Stockpile, have pointed antiwar and counterculture themes. Others, like Joan Brown’s Dancers in a City #4, parlay marks of a movement — in this case, the Abstract Expressionists’ brushwork — into a free-spirited, figurative style that’s unmistakably Bay Area.
Manuel Neri’s Coming in Last Thursday offers a compelling example of the master sculptor’s raw, textured female figures with his signature enamel brushstroke gestures, while Roy DeForest’s charming, cartoonish painting of his dog, Fred, draws attention to the area’s Funk movement.
The works’ common denominator is Rene di Rosa, who collected them with his late wife, Veronica, since the mid-1960s. Today, di Rosa Preserve: Art and Nature — a 217-acre park, vineyard, and museum — exhibits more than 2,000 works by about 800 Northern California artists. For the first time since it opened in 1997, the preserve began touring a selection of (mostly) outstanding works from the collection. The modest Peter Voulkos plate hardly stacks up to the iconic ceramicist’s piece in Palm Springs Desert Museum’s collection; but as a whole, the di Rosa exhibition tells a colorful, irreverent story of one region’s distinct perspective on life over the last 50 years.
The True Artist is an Amazing Luminous Fountain opens June 21 and continues through Aug. 14 at Palm Springs Desert Museum, with a lecture June 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the Annenberg Theater. Call (760) 325-0189. For information about di Rosa Preserve: Art and Nature, call (707) 226-5991 or point your Web browser to www.dirosapreserve.org.