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Wednesday, August 20, marked another brilliant chapter in our city’s “arts march” with the opening of the “Emphasis Santa Monica” at SMC’s Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery. The show features 49 artists who currently live and work in our city. Each artist has one visual work on display as well as an accompanying sentence or two about our burg-by-the-bay.

Since the visual representation per artist is so restricted, the artists’ comments give the show much of its punch. (In this case, a word may be worth a thousand pictures?) Curator Bruria Finkel, whose work “From Dawn to Sunset” is part of the show, summarizes the artists’ most frequent comments, “…the light, the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the tolerant community.” It can be fun stuff. Barbara Drucker thanks the “…policies of the city council and rent control board” for enabling her to live here for the past 20 years. (No word on how her rent-controlled landlord feels about being a mandatory arts patron, but then what is art without conflict?)

Speaking of conflict, A-list luminary John Baldessari offers a darker view: “I may be the last artist on Main Street. Gentrification triumphs as usual. Since 1970 I have brought a lot of national and international attention to Santa Monica when I say it is where my studio is located. No longer. My address will be where condos are located. Thanks Santa Monica for your support.” Legendary architect Frank Gehry, whose work “Untitled, 2000” is on display and whose phenomenal success presumably could put his home just about anywhere on the planet, offers a terse, almost touching thought on Santa Monica: “I’m having a hard time leaving it…”

On the visual side, curator Bruria Finkel notes that there is no particular theme to the show and accordingly, the 49 works comprise an eclectic mix. While it is not the point of the show to provide postcard shots of Santa Monica, local residents may find the city’s essence in a number of works that draw image from our seaside cityscape: Helen K. Garber’s “Third Street Promenade”; Ruth Rosen’s “Santa Monica Pier”; Elena Allen’s “Honky Tonk”; Tony Berlant’s “Greater Santa Monica”; Ave Pildas’ “Black Beach Boys”; Elena Siff’s “The Thorny Road of Honour”; and, Arleen Hendler’s delightful “Dunn Edwards II” are good examples. Sam Erenberg nails the undulating imagery of the Pacific in “Untitled III.” The show is curiously painter-centric – only 3 of 49 works are in three dimensions (including Gehry’s piece) and there is a complete void of newer media such as video.

According to the show’s catalog ($20), Emphasis Santa Monica’s timing heralds the opening of the fantastic new 499 seat Eli & Edythe Broad Stage at the SMC Performing Arts Center which is at the same site. Indeed, the Performing Arts Center joins a parade of cultural assets arguably way beyond the profile of a typical city of 90,000.

Taken as a whole and mirroring many of the written statements of the 49 artists in “Emphasis Santa Monica,” we Santa Monicans live somewhere very special. Our burgeoning arts scene may not yet be in the league of Italy’s Renaissance cradle of Florence in the 14th-16th centuries, but the trend is moving in the right direction. Come back Michelangelo, we have a rent controlled ceiling for your next great painting!

“Emphasis Santa Monica” is open Tuesdays through Saturdays through October 18, at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard. and 11th Street. Admission is free.

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