A few days ago, when I stopped by our local health clinic, I was stunned to see a flyer about an upcoming talk: "Collecting, Accumulating, Chronic Disorganization, and Hoarding." After the many dozens of responses to an earlier post on this topic (3 Feb), of course, I had to read further. I'd never heard of such a presentation in a medical venue. I'd never heard of such a presentation, period.
According to the notice, the guest speaker will address the fact that an estimated 4-6% of the general population experiences some level of disordered behavior called hoarding. Is this psych speak? Does that number apply to people who accumulate objects with which to create art? And does it include individuals like Rene di Rosa (1919-2010), who collected 1,800 pieces of eclectic artwork by 700 to 800 artists and displayed them in three galleries (including his former residence), across a sculpture meadow, and around a serene 35-acre lake, all set in a vineyard of 217 acres ?
Recently, I toured di Rosa with two old friends whom I've known since the end of the 1970s, when we all lived in Napa Valley. Located in the Carneros region of the valley, it is truly a lovely place to while away hours looking at a wild variety of art in a country environment, especially in spring weather. We enjoyed the opportunity to be outdoors, where sculptures punctuate the landscape in every direction. The first one appears at the end of the walkway that leads visitors from the parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery.
Although there are also sculptures inside Gatehouse Gallery and the former home of Rene and Veronica di Rosa, most of the larger works are on the grounds; for example, on the road up to the house, alongside the lake, in the residence courtyard, and throughout the meadow beyond it. A jitney transports visitors from Gatehouse Gallery to the upper area.
The above images just touch on how much is outside. Inside the house, I was overwhelmed by the amount of art that could be crammed--literally, from floor to ceiling--into one building.
Rene di Rosa's story is an interesting one. He was born and raised in Boston, graduated Yale University, worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, and tried his hand at the great American novel while living in Paris, then gave up urban environments for a rural life. Before California became world renowned for its wine, he bought 465 acres in 1960, planted grapes on 250 of them, and studied viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He went from befriending the avant-garde artists, writers, and musicians in San Francisco to also getting to know a group of counterculture artists at the newly founded art department of UC Davis. Many of them became lifelong friends. In the 1980s, he sold his winery to afford him the means with which to invest in creating an “art preserve” for the public. He invited artists to create new works on the property. In order to accommodate his ever-growing collection, di Rosa constructed buildings to house it. He opened the "art park" in 1997. Among the well-known artists are Robert Arneson, Joan Brown, Paul Kos, Manuel Neri, Viola Frey, Robert Hudson, Peter Voulkos, and William T. Wiley.
I have to admit that I was daunted by the sheer volume of art in the former residence of di Rosa and his wife Veronica, herself an artist. My head was aswirl as I looked around, up and down, in and out. I found it impossible to give so many pieces--their shapes, colors, styles, materials, textures, concepts--adequate attention. But, given enough time, anyone can learn a lot about what interested Northern California artists during the second half of the 20th century and the boundaries they trespassed, and be inspired by what they did on their own terms.
I can deeply appreciate what all that amassing of art meant for the particular coterie of artists from the 1950s on that di Rosa favored. His support of their experimentation, defiance of convention, and nose-thumbing at the so-called authorities of the art world nurtured their freedom in maintaining anti-commercial, even subversive, values. Today, re-purposing and assemblage are common. However, creating with found objects and non-traditional materials has not always been an acceptable art expression at galleries and museums. An iconoclast himself, di Rosa didn't care, for he wasn't an art snob. He wanted people to have their own experience, without any need for expertise in the field.
Eschewing the jitney, my friends and I walked along the lake to return to our cars. We marveled at what one person can accomplish because of a keen interest, commitment, and the resources and resourcefulness to realize a dream. His aesthetic preferences may not resonate with everyone, but di Rosa performed a great service. In spanning the art movements of the Bay Area, his 1800 pieces provide a tangible presence of Northern California's art history and an example of what hoarding art can achieve. He left a legacy to be admired and enjoyed in a natural setting.
Questions & Comments:
Individually established art preserves and museums have been growing in number. In addition to di Rosa's, I've visited Oliver Ranch (Geyserville, CA) and The Clark (Williamstown, MA) in the U.S. and several in Japan and Korea. What places have you found? What were they like? What kind of art do they exhibit?
Seeing the kinds of materials and found objects used in the di Rosa collection, what inspires you in creating your own art? How can you put to good use your own kind of collection?