Where are you?

MONCA asks artists to reflect on life in 2020

“A glimmer,” by Julia LaChica

As we get close the end of this trying year, how would you answer these questions?

“Have you changed physically? Mentally? Is your mind going in another direction?”

For its current juried exhibition, Selfie 2020, the Museum of Northern California Art (MONCA) put it to artists to answer those and more (“Has your art taken on a new life?”), reflecting on what’s now been more than 11 months of 2020. And in the more than 40 pieces by 22 artists that were chosen, the exhibit provides a setting for what turned out to be a rich variety of techniques, materials and expressions of self.

A planned Nov. 19 opening had to be canceled since the museum is at present not open to the public due to state coronavirus restrictions. The exhibit has moved online with a virtual guided tour with commentary by MONCA board member Kimberly Ranalla. (Visit monca.org for updates and more information.)

“Boys with Masks,” by Arran Harvey

The variety and excellence of pieces chosen for the show makes it challenging to pick a sampler for print description. But after viewing the works both on the walls and on my tablet screen, I return to Oakland artist Julia LaChica’s acrylic on wood painting, “A glimmer,” which depicts the detailed figure of a pink-sweatered little girl holding a stuffed toy bunny and wearing a black full-face gas mask over her head while standing in a patch of evocatively sketched flower shapes, above which a couple of realistic Monarch butterflies hover. The background is an almost abstract expressionist plane of blended ochre, green, brown and black in vertical orientation, the lack of horizon line making the central figure and her butterflies stand out as three-dimensional beings superimposed on an abstract world.

“Self-Portrait with Nabob Crown,” by Judith Johnson

Equally striking is Arran Harvey’s acrylic on paper painting of “Boys with Masks,” showing two young boys outfitted in autumn jackets and beanies, masks in place as they gaze at each other, perhaps discussing where to play with the soccer ball that one is holding.

In Chico photographer Angelea H.R.’s black-and-white self-portrait photo, “Rinse and Repeat Defeat,” a young woman sits in a disconsolate slump against a kitchen cabinet door, the counter above her head festooned with assorted pots, pans and utensils while next to her an open dishwasher gapes, displaying even more dishes. In “Feeling Sour,” the same photographer has placed herself behind a large glass vase filled with long-stemmed desiccated flowers resting on a bed of lemons. She sits with her elbows resting on the table top, framing the vase, with her face obscured by the foliage rising out of the vessel. As the artist says in her printed statement, “I am informed by my own struggle for control over my body, and the related anxieties I feel about my corporeal existence.”

“Just Asking,” by Nelson Wheeler

More lighthearted (perhaps), but equally expressive of the artist’s self-conception is Janice Hoffman’s “Potential,” a ceramic sculptured “totem,” its whimsical white elephant representing Ganesh, the Hindu god of wisdom, success and good luck, perched on top of a tree with its Dumboesque ears spread in preflight. Beneath it, a series of birds perch with folded wings as well as a female figure at the base draped in soft blue and cradling an egg in her right hand. The artist describes her assembly technique for making totems as being “like beads strung vertically, the intrinsic meaning of the piece alterable by the order in which the pieces are strung.” By not including a personal interpretation of the piece, the artist allows her viewers to attach their own meanings to the order in which this piece is composed.

All in all, this exhibition is a collection of excellently conceived and craftily executed artwork conveying the challenges faced and met by artists doing their best to self-assess and express during this period of simultaneous social upheaval and isolation.

Selfie 2020 shows online through Jan. 24. Online panel conversation with the artists Sunday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m.

Museum of Northern California Art, 900 Esplanade, monca.org.

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