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Napa resurrects diRosa as a Center for Contemporary Art

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Reopening diRosa

“Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times” is the new exhibit at the diRosa Center for Contemporary Art, 5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa.

Jan. 27: Member reception, 3 – 4 p.m., Public reception 4 – 6 p.m.

Jan 28-May 27: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (Closed Monday & Tuesday)

Admission is $5 for Gallery 1; guided tours to Gallery 2, $12. Discounts available for seniors 65+, educators and students.

Public Programs are scheduled several times monthly that include artist conversations, interactive art-making seminars, family workshops, and social events.

For more information about programs and to reserve tickets, visit dirosaart.org/events.

The eccentric art museum on Highway 121 just over the Napa County line is finally reopening this weekend, after an unplanned three-month delay in its resurrection.

The establishment formerly known simply as “di Rosa” now boasts a more illuminating name, and sporty new signage. The “di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art” will hold its opening reception on Saturday, from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by its regular-hours schedule starting on Sunday, Jan. 28.

The January opening follows an extended period of renovation in the wake of the October fires. The grounds and buildings themselves didn’t burn, but the smoke was thick, and everywhere. Every building, every room, every piece of art and furniture had to be cleaned and fumigated from the acrid damage that infiltrated the region.

Perhaps there was a bright side to the chaos. The di Rosa had come under scrutiny from area art-lovers who questioned the effort to move away from its founder Rene di Rosa’s vision, and a number of long-time docents left when staff changes at the top signaled a new direction.

But time doesn’t stand still, even in a museum – perhaps especially in a center of contemporary art. This month the di Rosa comes out of its chrysalis with new wings, ready to show its colors. Whether the new di Rosa will satisfy all of its old audience or not remains to be seen, but a new art center in the region is enough reason for acceptance, if not celebration.

What visitors will find is a re-imagined di Rosa that still draws upon the extensive collection of assemblage, funk and whimsy that characterizes the permanent collection, built by founders Rene and Veronica di Rosa – but with twice-yearly new art projects, commissioned by the museum to illustrate a challenging theme that will change annually.

“This is extraordinarily different for di Rosa,” said the center’s Executive Director Bob Sain, who came on board a little over a year ago with the express mission of revitalizing the museum. “It’s part of a decade-long transition from a private collection to a public institution.”

Part of the problem with the di Rosa has always been one of definition. Is it a private collection? An art gallery? Is it even a museum, with its two galleries separated by a shuttle or a stroll along a graveled path next to an expansive (if engineered) lake? And what of those statues, sculptures and outright strange installations distributed around its acreage?

Sain’s solution is to re-envision it as an educational opportunity, as well as an art institution, and to embrace its Napa location without losing sight of its commitment to the arts. Speaking to a small pres group that toured the still-in-progress installation, he called it “a Bay Area arts institution that is sited in Napa, bringing people together around ideas that matter.”

This year, those ideas orbit around the theme, “Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times.” Visitors will find the theme expressed in distinctly different ways in the two separate galleries.

In Gallery 1, accessible to anyone who pays the $5 entrance fee, two curators have created an exhibition of over 50 pieces from the legacy di Rosa collection to illustrate the theme. Author Dodie Bellamy and art historian Pamela Lee have mined the di Rosa collection for familiar and unfamiliar pieces – paintings, mixed media, sculpture – to fill two rooms with their vision of “uncertain times,” specifically around their theme of surveillance, titled “There’s a Dark Secret in Me.”

Reopening diRosa

“Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times” is the new exhibit at the diRosa Center for Contemporary Art, 5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa.

Jan. 27: Member reception, 3 – 4 p.m., Public reception 4 – 6 p.m.

Jan 28-May 27: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (Closed Monday & Tuesday)

Admission is $5 for Gallery 1; guided tours to Gallery 2, $12. Discounts available for seniors 65+, educators and students.

Public Programs are scheduled several times monthly that include artist conversations, interactive art-making seminars, family workshops, and social events.

For more information about programs and to reserve tickets, visit dirosaart.org/events.

In the Gallery 2 building almost half a mile away, three contemporary artists have created installations that provide specific interpretations on the”uncertain times” theme: Allison Smith has built a monument without a statue in her take on “White Supremacy”; Rigo 23 gives us an enormous three-dimensional flag to symbolize “American Exceptionalism”; and Ala Ebtekar illustrates “Citizenship” with a large floor installation of cyan tiles reproducing a photograph of the cosmos from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Clearly, this is an ambitious new direction for di Rosa. To underscore the challenge, the final section of Gallery 2 is not an installation, but a debate room – a place for visitors to engage in the discussion the art stimulates, through leaving their answers to challenging questions, or placing pins on a spectrum of opinion.

This is engagement through art in ideas that matter; and the education component proves to be not just for kids anymore, but for anyone with the eyes to see art in its diversity.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.