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Boston & San Diego art in Satellite Intelligence

Probably the best pictures to run from the catalog are on pages 29, 30, and 10 (although i didn't talk about that particular painting, but i did talk about the artist).


New Art from Boston and San Diego.

At the List Visual Arts Center.

Continues through Nov. 18.



AT FIRST GLANCE, Boston and San Diego appear to have nothing in common. People who know the two cities will probably confirm that they have nothing in common. Boston is a city steeped in history and tradition; San Diego is a spanking-new city that continues to experience tremendous growth and does not provide much evidence of its past.

Despite the different worlds these cities represent, curators from Boston and San Diego found enough similarity between the two cities -- based on their respective proximity to New York and Los Angeles, the two major art centers in the country -- to exhibit work by contemporary artists from both cities in one show.

In a rare exchange between cities, Satellite Intelligence, a project organized by the List Visual Arts Center and the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, features the work of six artists from each city.

A curatorial group from each institution chose the artists from the opposite coast. After narrowing the pool of over 100 applicants from each city down to 20, the curatorial teams traveled to the other cities, and selected six artists from each after a series of studio visits.

Some of the works deal specifically with regional issues, but the most successful ones come from artists who are dealing with what they know, whether it is one of the cities, the treatment and mistreatment of animals, or inhabitants and tourists.

Deborah Small, from San Diego, draws on the history of the region. The initial impact of her "Empire-'Elan-Ecstasy" (1990) smacks of San Diego and the old Southwest. It is a colorful multi-paneled wall installation, complete with books and artificial and live foliage. The focus is on the Spanish conquest of the region and its original inhabitants, Native Americans, and how the attitudes of the period have trickled down to affect present attitudes.

Like a handmade quilt, the wall installation juxtaposes patterned squares with solid colored squares. But the solid squares are written with text, quoting Native Americans from the 18th century and the present. Others pose multiple-choice questions on the treatment of Native Americans, offering piercing reminders of how much the stereotypes and myths quietly pervade everyday life. One panel that can strike a nerve in baseball fan reads, "Padres' Bubble bursts as Braves win in 11th, 5 - 4."

The panels of text -- combined with images of the old-time fruit crates from "Mission produce," old maps, and even a colored plastic Indian "headdress" -- convey a picture of how the events of historic California and the Spanish missions have led to misconceptions about the "glory" of the Spanish conquest and the mistreatment of Native Americans in the United States.

Mags Harries of Cambridge attempts to respond to San Diego regional issues in her mixed-media installation "Border Garden" (1990). The installation consists of a colorful "garden" shack surrounded by colored sponges, lights on the wall that flash as bright as car headlights, and an audio tape of crickets. This construction, however, is not as convincing as the text accompanying it, which discusses the issue of water in desert-dry San Diego, as well as the Mexican-American border and the exchange of peoples across it.

Although the flashing lights are reminiscent of US Border Patrol cruisers, and the crickets do suggest nighttime -- which is when people cross the border illegally -- the installation does little else to evoke the grittiness and tension of the Mexican-American border.

It is a border garden in the sense that its colors conjure up images of San Diego -- which is close to the border -- but the garden's link to the people who live on or south of the border is not strong.

Cameron Shaw of Boston, on the other hand, draws successfully from a region -- the Northeast -- in his mixed media reliefs. Shaw has a sense of the history of the industrialized Northeast, and how artifacts of the past, even in a rusted and dilapidated state, can capture that history.

Commonplace objects -- candles, bottles, a tire -- are stuffed into containers that appear to have rusted outdoors for years. These boxes are combined with images and old photographs, and capture life in America -- either on the frontier or in an industrial town -- 100 years ago.

The box holding the bottles in "Untitled Box (Pointe au Pic)" (1989) has the look of rusted metal but is actually made of felt. Shaw's understanding of materials also shows up in "Untitled Box with Long Tents and Candles" (1988), a mixed media relief he made using charred wood, candles, and a photographic negative image of people and tents on a plain. It is not an attempt to replicate an object of the past, but to create an image of the past.

One reason Shaw's pieces are successful is because he draws on his own experiences and the region of the country that he knew. San Diego photographer Elizabeth Sisco realizes similar success when she documents the interchange between tourists and peddlers in Tijuana in her mixed-media installation "Double Vision" (1989).

Sisco asked tourists along the Avenida Revoluci'on, the main commercial street of Tijuana, the city just across the border from San Diego, what they thought were the differences between the United States and Mexico. Their reactions to the border city ranged from "we came here to show the place off to my family" to "pretty scummy." The attitude of Americans, evident in these quotes, has shaped the Tijuana of the photographs.

The installation itself is arranged like a Tijuana curio shop. Plaster Walt Disney figures, a figure of an American Indian, and photographs of Tijuana are displayed along the walls; the arrangement mixes anecdotes, opinions, and images of Tijuana. It pokes fun at the attitude of the tourists who show their disdain for Tijuana's poverty and chaos but who continue to take part in its commerce and culture.

The paintings of Gerry Bergstein from Boston provide a view of the world through an arrangement of images as well, but all in oil paint on canvas. Best seen from a few feet away, "Map #4" (1990) is a collage of images whose sum is a map of the United States. The map combines three-dimensional parts with images of fruit and bulls-eye targets in the middle of the country.

Bergstein's "Garden of Delights" (1989) is even more three-dimensional as a relief painting. The "delights" are piles of healthy fruit alongside what appears to be a tent in the garden.

Overall, the images from the group of San Diego artists hadhas? a greater impact than their eastern counterparts. Ultimately, though, the exhibit indicates that artists do not have to migrate to a major art center in order to produce powerful art; they can remain in their "satellite" cities.