Crowdsourced exhibit ‘Everybody’s Ocean’ opens at the MAH
Months ago, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) issued a call to Central and Northern California residents for ocean-inspired visual art of any medium, any size: “your painting of West Cliff at sunset. Your two-year old’s drawing of the beach that’s been on the fridge for five months. That awesome GoPro footage you took while surfing. Submit all of it.” Accurately predicting a huge response, the resulting “part crowd-sourced, part-curated” exhibition will be presented in two waves of Everybody’s Ocean, the first of which opened Friday.
The current four-month exhibition features 158 works, some dozen of these from artists invited to “anchor” it. Crashing waves, beachgoers, giant squid, mermaid grottos, dire gyre, surf photos and rainbows overflow the edges of the 12-foot high teal-colored walls of MAH’s Solari Gallery. Art hangs suspended from the ceiling and lies on the floor, while videos occupy two full-standing walls and a small viewing area. Loud, ominous ambient music fills the aural space. The works are grouped into commonalities of theme; MAH’s preparator Robbie Schoen and exhibitions manager Justin Collins remarkably comb visual sense out of the cacophony.
The entry wall offers a video loop of most of the exhibition participants completing the phrase “What the ocean represents to me … ” My first encounter was with Brooke MacKellar (whose “Sunset Ocean” watercolor hangs in the Sublime area) responding with deep seriousness “families and fish.” Sincere youth, dreamy-eyed elders—there are a lot of touching moments in Everybody’s Ocean.
Here, 158 humans consider the elemental force that so governs our lives, expressing the relationship using the visual language available to them. I first visited when there were few identifying labels. Distinctive styles identified familiar locals: Ann Thiermann’s sensitive pastel and Ian Everard’s impossibly crisp book portrait, Michele Hausman’s grand plein aire and David Gardner’s cheeky paint on panel. Ed Smiley’s joyful chaos, Andrew Ward’s quirky ceramic fish, Peter Loftus’ soulful landscape, Margaret Niven’s manipulated pattern, Wayne Jiang’s oblique view or Jenni Ward’s thoughtful ceramic installation. There are also compelling unfamiliar works obviously created by trained artists, and many that could have been created by inspired amateurs. The breadth of expression is exciting.
At the bustling First Friday opening, while tracking down the painter of an impressive oil of a lone swimmer in vast dark ocean (“Cave” by invited artist Narangkar Glover), I met Torreya Cumming, who had been invited to submit “Small Craft for the Anthropocene,” an Ohlone design-based canoe of pipe insulation and plastic twine which she had bravely paddled to Angel Island.
“I was unsure at first,” she says of being invited to the crowdsourced exhibition. “But it celebrates creativity a lot more than many shows that are curated.”
PHOTO: Janice Shane Mann’s 2013 painting ‘California Seas’ from MAH’s ‘Everybody’s Ocean’ exhibit.