by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.
Andre Mare, "Self-Portrait," o/c, 1910.
(Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara) This is the season for grand museum openings. First we have all the hoopla over the new Getty Center, then the Louvre in Paris expands their galleries, allowing more of their unequaled collection to go on view. And now, just when you thought it was safe to relax, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is opening a new wing. This sounds like a great excuse to see some great art and visit one of Southern California's most romantic towns.
The new Peck Wing will add 11,000 square feet of gallery, a cafe, expanded book store and a children's gallery. The largest of the new galleries, the Ridley-Tree gallery, will be home to the museum's 19th- and early 20th-Century American, English, and French artists, while the museum's wonderful California collection will now be housed in the new Emmons Gallery. Because of the expansion, the entire museum has been reorganized and many of the familiar paintings have been reframed and conserved. So in many ways, visitors will feel like they are visiting a "new" museum.
To celebrate, the museum is holding two exhibitions: Revealing the Holy Land: The Photographic Exploration of Palestine and Santa Barbara Collects/ Impressions of France. Both of these shows will allow visitors to see works never before shown in public.
Santa Barbara Collects honors local collectors and celebrates the beauty of French 19th-Century landscape painters. Works by major artists, as well as stunning examples from unfamiliar names, associated with the Barbizon, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist schools will be on view. Drawn from 15 local collections, the show serves as a lesson in the history of American collecting. Gustave Courbet's The Villa of Madame de Morny at Deauville is a splendid example of the treats that await. Courbet, one of the great Realist painters, presents a simple seashore dominated by a brilliant blue sky. It is an unassuming genre scene that the artist is able to elevate to the extraordinary.
Revealing the Holy Land presents 90 vintage photographs of Palestine from the 1850's through the 1880's. As artists in Europe were pushing the boundaries of painting in capturing the countryside, photographers were exploring the wider world with their fabulous new device, the camera. These rarely exhibited images present a world long vanished. Created in an attempt to document a land unknown except through the Bible to Europeans, their photographers range from gifted amateurs to slick commercial professionals. In today's age of oversaturation of visual imagery this exhibition illuminates our understanding of how hungry people were for images of distant and exotic lands.
And as an added serendipity, the museum has acquired Composition  by Joaquin Torres-Garcia, one of Latin America's finest artists, although sadly, he is almost unknown to most museum visitors in the United States. To be able to see one of his major works from the 1930's is worth the trip alone. This innovative and dynamic artist whose Universal Constructivist style was aimed at creating an international and universal language of art that pulled recognizable symbols from all cultures had a dynamic impact on modern art. One cannot look at members of the Abstract Expressionist school without wondering how much influence his works had on their career, especially since he worked in New York in the 1930's. His abstract paintings are a powerful collection of familiar images placed in a grid that, combined, forms a vast array of meanings.
The "new" Santa Barbara Museum of Art has something new to fascinate a wide array of visitors. Take the time to check out this new addition to an old friend, and make sure you take the time to introduce yourself to Joaquin Torres-Garcia's painting.