Acclaimed artist Peter Santino is counting down. Visit his website and you'll find large, red numerals ticking away the days, hours, minutes and seconds until, according to the Mayan Calendar, the end of the world on 12/21/2012. But instead of hoarding dry goods and ammunition, Santino has been busy creating conceptual artwork, paintings and photographs (all tied thematically to the end of time) for what is, perhaps, the most ambitious exhibition of the year. Santino will begin installing his museum-wide, interactive show, "The Exhibition at the End of Time, at the End of the World" at the Morris Graves Museum of Art on Wednesday, Dec. 12, hoping to have everything in place for his Dec. 21 opening -- just in the nick of time.
Despite being a well-known artist with a strong reputation and a 40-year list of exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Europe, Santino is better known locally as a master craftsman and restoration expert. He participated in the restoration of the former Carnegie Library, the building that would become the Graves Museum and that Santino will ultimately re-renovate to house his upcoming exhibition.
The disparity in his local reputation is due in part to the fact that this is one of his few hometown exhibitions. He created a permanent outdoor installation at the Humboldt Botanical Gardens and participated in loosely organized group shows as part of WACO (a long defunct, infamous local arts collective he helped found).
The dual role of artist and craftsman, and the perspective it affords, seems to fuel some of Santino's work. As part of his exhibition, he will make a sand painting that, when viewed from the proper vantage point, will allow viewers to better appreciate the building's existing craftsmanship and consider how some decorative, architectural elements blur the line between fine art and craft. "It was just these craftsman who did this ... and yet these things are so, so beautiful -- and we step on them all the time, walk past this stuff all the time," Santino said.
Santino does not have an apocalypse fetish. You won't find him at the airport with a sign that says, "The End is Near." His interest in the end of time is far more personal and more closely related to preexisting themes in his work. The exhibition deals with the large, universal idea of The End as it relates to all of us, but he also explores The End as it relates to impermanence, failure and communication -- subjects Santino has grappled with since the '70s and '80s.
The exhibition got its start when Sanderson Morgan, retired Humboldt State professor of art and former director of the Reese Bullen Gallery, saw Santino's piece "All Happy Now," a 100-foot diameter mound of formed earth, in the Humboldt Botanical Gardens. Morgan liked what he saw and approached Santino about the possibility of doing a gallery exhibition locally. "I was kind of despondent that it was never going to happen," Santino said. He explained that there wasn't an available venue appropriate for the kind of work he wanted to do. "And then Sanderson, a couple years ago, said they're setting up their schedule for 2012 [for the Graves Museum] and we should talk to them and make a proposal. And I said, '2012! Can I get December? Can I get the Mayan Calendar tie in?'" Santino laughed. Suddenly, long-contemplated pieces began to coalesce around this connection to The End.
Santino put together a proposal for an exhibition that would incorporate all of the museum's galleries, a first for the Graves Museum. It was enthusiastically accepted and Santino started work on its various elements.
These include a false ceiling, 1,100 square feet of fake fur, a race between Truth and Beauty (words mounted on remote controlled car frames that visitors can race around an infinity-loop track), and small grass mounds that spell out in Braille "The End of the World 1968-2012" (the years corresponding to Santino's creative life span). Many of the works will allow visitors some level of participation. The museum will even be open during the installation (beginning Dec. 12), allowing the public to see how all the different elements come together in the various galleries.
With the end looming, it seems an appropriate time to ask some big questions. For instance, do remote controlled word-cars and fake ceilings constitute art? The short answer is, in the context of Peter Santino's work, a resounding yes.
Art at its most basic level is about the communication of ideas, perspectives and personal aesthetics. Truth, Beauty, Failure -- these are abstract ideas that we can't touch, see, smell, taste or hear until someone (in many cases an artist) gives them form. Sometimes these ideas are best expressed by adding layers of paint and brush strokes; other times they are best expressed by eliminating all superfluous elements -- stripping an idea down to its core. Santino's work allows us to consider abstracts in new, interesting, concrete ways. Whether we are confronted with the idea of Truth in the form of a word atop a remote controlled car or an oil painting by one of the old masters doesn't really matter. As long as we are confronted, as long as we have something to react and respond to, it's art -- and Santino's exhibition will certainly provide plenty.
There will be an opening event, "The Opening at the End," with food from Nature's Serving on Friday, Dec. 21, starting at 5:30 p.m. Santino will be on hand to introduce the exhibition, which will run (barring the apocalypse) until Jan. 20. The Morris Graves Museum of Art is located at 636 F St. in Eureka and is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
THE END OF THE WORLD. Museum map.
1. THE END OF HISTORY: Styrofoam, Portland cement, acrylic polymer resin, nylon rope, pulleys. Anderson Gallery
2. THE END OF TIME: Masonite, dense Styrofoam, oil paint, composition gold leaf, radio controlled cars. William Thonson Gallery
3. THE END OF THE WORLD (grass): Grass sod, plastic trays. Melvin Schuler Sculpture Garden
4. THE END OF THE WORLD (fur): Faux Arctic fox fur on corrugated cardboard. Eureka Rotary Performance Rotunda
5. THE END (video): Homer Balabanis Gallery
6. THE ONE TRUE THING: Pigmented sand on plywood with fabric.
Upstairs in the Tom Knight Gallery: THE END OF THE SUN: Oil paintings on canvas based on photographs, and THE END OF ME: Framed photographs.