August 3rd, 2010

In October 2006 my father was admitted to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for complications after his kidney transplant. My sister and I flew down from Northern California to take turns sitting in his hospital room at night. I never managed to get comfortable in the waiting room, so I would walk the halls. I expected to see variations on the “Hang in There” kitten posters. Rather I found the most amazing collection of art I’ve ever seen in a non-traditional venue: Paintings by Picasso and Lichtenstein, installation art by Claes Oldenburg, and an awesome array of well curated photography.

What I’m getting at is that exhibiting at a hospital is prestigious, selected by a prominent organization with a large budget, and seen by a broad cross-section of the community. The Alta Bates Summit Associates Community Art Gallery at Berkeley’s Alta Bates hospital is another such venue. It is a project of the ABSMC Associates founded in 1978 by Bobbie Picard. The exhibits are curated by Jan Neilson, and typically run 8-10 weeks.

The current offering at Alta Bates includes mixed media photo collage by Deborah Griffin, art glass by Bruce Pizzichillo & Dari Gordon, and paintings by Sarah Whitecotton.

Deborah Griffin is a fixture in the Alameda art scene. She exhibits ten pieces, including new work that combines digital and mixed media. The first of her images you encounter aptly sets the tone for her portfolio. “Karmic Laundry List” is dreamy, a bit surreal, and inspiring. A winged fairy (or angel) holds her “bucket list” which includes goals ranging from the readily attainable to shooting for the stars, including “eat chocolate often” and “save the planet.”

"Karmic Laundry List" (2010) by Deborah Griffin

Glass artists Bruce Pizzichillo & Dari Gordon include the Museum of Arts and Design in NY and the Seattle Art Museum gift shop among their credits, and will be exhibitors at the New York International Gift Fair later this month. Working in their West Oakland studio they create both one-of-a-kind vases and pieces for sale through retail outlets. Either way, they are gorgeous. I went back repeatedly during the reception to get “just one more” look at them.

Pizzichillo & Gordon. Left to right: Crazy Quilt Vase; Bubble Incalmo Vase/Topaz; Ivory Vase with Hearts

Painter Sarah Whitecotton’s own transformative experience following an injury makes her an ideal artist for exhibiting at Alta Bates. She writes, “After fracturing my right wrist, I trained myself to paint with my left hand and my paintings became more controlled, patterned and detailed with many layers of paint.” Whitecotton lists Mexican Muralism, California Expressionism, and the Fauve school of art among her influences, the last evident in work such as her “Fauve Landscape.”

"Fauve Landscape" (2009) by Sarah Whitecotton

Art in a hospital is a true win-win scenario. It’s a sweet gig for the artists, and soothing–even uplifting–for the patients and their families. Neilson describes the primary goal for the exhibit as being “transcendent.” It transports the viewer out of and above their current situation which, in a hospital, is often unpleasant, even heartbreaking. I thought of this as a woman wearing a hospital gown was wheeled into the gallery to view the art. She was all smiles as she chatted with the artists.

The Alta Bates Summit Associates Community Art Gallery is located at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, 2450 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, CA. The current exhibit runs from July 2-August 31, 2010. The gallery is always open.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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One response to “Transcendence”

  1. nancy v says:

    Thanks for another useful review. i spend too much time at our alameda hosp er so try to stay away from hospitals these days, but will def go over there–i like their hallway art too. Not enough buildings utilize their space–‘course I am prejudiced, there can never be too much ‘good’ art!

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