Coming soon: a big city gallery with adventurous art. The San Diego State University Downtown Gallery, set to open in April, is a handsome 2,000-square-foot space in the historic Electra Building at the corner of Broadway and Kettner Boulevard. Establishing this venue is an important step in the San Diego art world, because the setting is in the heart of the local urban footprint. Eugene Maximillian Hoffman designed the original structure, built in 1911, and the revered architect William Templeton Johnson created the gallery within the north wing in 1928. Johnson’s architectural contributions include the design of the San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Trust and Savings Bank. During its 72-year history, Electra operated as the Station B power generator plant, having closed its doors in 1983. After that, it was pretty much abandoned for the next 20 years before restoration began.
For the grand opening of this sleek 20th century-turned-21st century site, an inaugural exhibition that is worldly yet local has been organized. Divergence: The Work of John Baldessari, Deborah Butterfield, and Andrea Zittel features three artists who are all graduates of SDSU born in San Diego County with worldwide recognition. But, the similarities end there, due to generational and stylistic differences.
The eldest of the three generations, Baldessari, born in 1931, has had more years to evolve and to cast off styles in search of new ones. At one point in his career he famously destroyed all of his work, only to begin anew in a different mode. His years have been crammed with activity, much of it experimental. While he has worked and taught tirelessly, there have been rewards. Collectors avidly seek his work, and he has had more than 120 solo exhibitions in the United States and Europe, numerous awards and fellowships, and has influenced countless painters and sculptors.
Butterfield, born in 1949, works with materials of wood, found metal, and cast bronze to sculpt horses, which have formed her single theme for three decades. She has been recognized with NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships. Her work is highly valued and has been included in the collections of numerous public institutions in the United States.
Zittel is the youngest of the three artists, part of the generation born in the 1960s. Her modernist furniture installations have been included in many group exhibitions at institutions, notably the Museum of Modern Art. Like Baldessari, she has had solo exhibitions here and abroad.
This show offers a good mix of genres, attitudes, and generations in the contemporary art field. It will spiritedly kick off the grand opening of the SDSU Downtown Gallery, promising intelligent and additional controversial art exposure in our city. Let’s hope so. (619/594-6511) DARLENE G. DAVIES