Three-ring art party

MONCA shines with two new exhibits and circus-themed gala

The museum aglow during Cirque du MONCA.

The museum aglow during Cirque du MONCA.

Photo by Robert Speer

Trapeze Acrobats and Tend, now showing through May 25.
Museum hours: Thursday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $5
Museum of Northern California Art
900 Esplanade

Motorists on The Esplanade last Saturday night (April 6) were treated to a fantastical sight: the massive Veterans Memorial Hall—home of MONCA, the Museum of Northern California Art—awash from top to bottom in bright red, yellow and orange.

The spectacular visual treatment was the literal highlight of MONCA’s 2019 fundraising gala, held that evening in the museum. The event was attended by nearly 150 people, who spilled out into a big tent set up for a buffet dinner.

Inside the museum, there was a variety of entertainment over the course of the evening. Collectively, they composed a kind of Gypsy circus, the “Cirque du MONCA,” as it was called. There was some wildly beautiful solo dancing by Mylee Francisco, tarot readings by Kozmic Kev, a photo booth, a couple of Chikoko stiltwalkers standing very tall amid the crowd, and, following dinner, music by the terrific Jeff Pershing Band that got people dancing.

Nobody throws a party better than the folks at MONCA, led by their imaginative and tireless board president, Pat Macias, and powered by her army of volunteers. This one was all the more remarkable for having come on the heels of two new exhibits whose opening reception had been held just two days prior (Thursday, April 4). An equally large number of people—again, nearly 150—showed up for that event.

Chikoko stilt-walkers Nel Adams (left) and Sara Rose Bonetti.

Photo by Robert Speer

The two exhibits can’t be less alike. Let’s start with Sacramento artist Clay Vorhes’ Trapeze Acrobats, in the Phillips Gallery. It’s a carefully constructed series of about two dozen oil-on-canvas paintings that feature small images of trapeze artists—or, in at least one case, trapeze dogs—suspended precariously on lines that cross the paintings’ planes in multiple directions, forming colorful geometric shapes.

My friend Alan Carrier, who’s a local sculptor, art teacher and gentleman farmer, told me he saw the influence of another Sacramento-based painter, Wayne Thiebaud, in Vorhes’ work, and I had to agree. This is especially true with regard to Thiebaud’s colorful and geometrically designed aerial views of Sacramento Valley landscapes.

Individually, Vorhes’ paintings are intriguing and entertaining, and I would have taken one home had the price ($22,500 in most cases) not been a bit out of my range. Exhibited as a group, however, they suffer from a certain sameness and—to this viewer, at least—become duplicative after a while.

Not so with Tend, the other exhibit that opened on April 4 (it occupies both the Headley and Ginochio galleries). The work of four members of the terrifically creative local costuming group Chikoko—Muir Hughes, Nel Adams, Sara Rose Bonetti and Christy Seashore—it’s a collection of fabrications using repurposed glass, sticks (some of them burnt, in a nod to the fire gods), found objects and, yes, fabric to create fantastical figures.

Many of those figures are suggestive of nests, others of baskets, flowers, birds and insects—and of home. They all have a rich organic quality, as if they are growing right out of the walls on which they are mounted.

There is nothing “artsy” about these pieces; they seem instead simply to be the creations of four women who love to make fun figures using materials at hand. They have a delightfully playful quality to them.

That’s why Tend is more successful than the more sophisticated Trapeze Acrobats. The sheer variety of its pieces—some large, some small, some sturdy, others delicate—makes each of them a fresh experience.