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California Small Works Exhibition 

Small World

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Michael Amsler

Exhibits showcase art in the miniature

By David Templeton

SMALL IS BIG. Very big. Though it may be only a seasonal phenomenon, every autumn--for 10 years running now--a growing number of artists band together in solemn celebration of the enigmatic beauty of smallness.

The epicenter of all this size-mic activity is Santa Rosa's California Museum of Art, sponsor of the 10th annual California Small Works Show, a wildly popular, statewide, juried exhibition featuring works of measureless artistry but minimal stature.

All entries in the highly competitive show must be smaller than 12 inches in all directions. According to CMA director Gay Shelton, the museum received almost 800 entries last year; even more have come in this year. Of those, only 150 will be selected for the exhibition, scheduled to run from Oct. 14 through Dec. 20. The show itself has become one of the county's best-attended fine art events, drawing thousands of visitors.

"The community has grown to love this show," grins Shelton, taking a break on the museum's sunny, sculpture-enhanced outdoor patio.

"I think people visiting the show like that there is such a large variety of pieces," she observes, noting that, because of the miniature scale of each piece, there is room for more artwork.

"It's pretty exciting seeing so much art in one room," says Vicky Kumpfer, the Small Works coordinator. "It's an aesthetic potpourri. It's like taking a statewide survey of art."

"Then too," Shelton adds, "it's a very competitive show, so there's the suspense of it that is appealing. Who will get in and who won't?"

The job of selecting which pieces make it into the show has traditionally fallen to a single juror, always an artist, with carte blanche to choose according to his or her aesthetic tastes. This year's juror is East Bay artist Deborah Oropallo, a painter/printmaker whose work shows a keen interest in images that are hidden behind one another.

Oropallo's task is a daunting one. With a final goal of choosing 150 pieces, she'll have to turn down eight for every one she picks.

But what about those artists whose work is not selected? After all, many exceptional entries are rejected merely because they don't fit the juror's specific vision.

Fortunately, there is another Small Works show in town. Formerly titled the "Second Chance Show," the newly named "Small Works--Alternative Visions" is a non-juried exhibition--also coordinated by Kumpfer--that was started three years ago and is run by the Santa Rosa Parks and Recreation Department. Starting Oct. 19 at the Finley Community Center, the massive exhibition works as a pressure valve, letting off some of the artistic steam generated at CMA. Not that Alternative Visions deserves to be thought of as a parking lot for CMA's rejects. On the contrary, the alternatives show is a glowing affirmation of the remarkable quality of work being generated by California artists.

"The nice thing about visiting the alternative show," explains Kumpfer, "is that you end up seeing that it's not necessarily quality that is juried out of the CMA show."

That main thing that both exhibits have in common, of course, is the remarkable respect for art wrought on a intimate scale. Small works are often indescribably potent.

"The small pieces give you a very specific, very introspective experience," Kumpfer affirms. "A big work, a landscape, for instance, has the ability to draw you into it. But with a small piece, you often end up absorbing it into yourself. That's a remarkable experience, and it's one of the things that art is all about."

The California Small Works Exhibition runs from Oct. 14 through Dec. 20 at the California Museum of Art, LBC, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. A reception will be held Oct. 16 from 5 to 8 p.m. Exhibit hours: Wednesdays and Fridays, 1 to 4; Thursdays, 1 to 8; weekends, 11 to 4. First day of the exhibit is free; normal admission is $2. 527-0297. "Small Works--Alternative Visions" runs from Oct. 19 to Dec. 18, with a reception on Oct. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Finley Community Center, 2060 West College Ave., Santa Rosa. Exhibit hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free. 543-3737.

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From the October 8-14, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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