Arts & Theater

Verge Center opens with vibrant show

It’s here at last. Verge Center for the Arts, after becoming a nonprofit entity four years ago and a spate of inventive fundraising projects, has mounted its premiere exhibition in its brightly colored, newly renovated space at 625 S St., Sacramento.

Founded in 2008 by Jesse Powell as a for-profit commercial gallery with free artist studios ringing the exhibition space at 19th and V streets, Verge rapidly became a prominent player on the gallery scene, beginning with a stunning exhibition by Steve Kaltenbach that drew attention in Art in America magazine.

In the spring of 2010, Powell stepped back from the gallery/studio complex and offered to help Verge find a less-expensive space and segue into a nonprofit organization, headed by executive Director Liv Moe. The gallery moved to the S Street space, a capacious warehouse that needed a lot of work, with the aim of establishing low-rent artist studios and a large exhibition space to continue presenting challenging shows.

The building now houses 38 studios, twice the exhibition space and a classroom, as well as new digs for Axis Gallery an innovative artist-run cooperative. Last year, with the help of board president Carlin Naify and her husband, Jim, proprietor of Beers Bookstore, Verge secured a $1.5 million loan from the Northern California Community Loan Fund in San Francisco, which, along with funds from a group of investors consisting of community members and the organization’s board members, and a $50,000 grant from the city of Sacramento, enabled the organization to buy the S Street building and begin renovating the space. Verge opened its first exhibition in its gorgeous main gallery Thursday night.

Curated by San Francisco hip-hop artist Yarrow Slaps, “Champagne” is a vibrant show with something of a split personality. The vast majority of works take their lead from outsider art, following a trend Moe calls “naiveism” with overtones of low-brow art fed by skateboard and hip hop culture.

Among these works, a series of small, primitivist paintings by Angela Dalinger stand out. Dalinger, a German artist who has shown throughout Europe, is having her U.S. debut at Verge. Her work veers from goofy humor to haunting, emotionally fraught scenes. A lone woman swimmer in a vast sea makes one think of Stevie Smith’s poem “Not Waving but Drowning.” A scene of nudes picnicking on grass, unlike Édouard Manet’s bold “Luncheon on the Grass,” is as precise and delicate as a Persian miniature. There are also naive works referencing pop culture by Justin Hager ( a wry take-off on Family Feud), Rye Purvis, Michelle Guintu and Slaps.

But there are also a number of sophisticated pieces by academically trained artists, among them Chad Hasegawa’s lumbering grizzly bear made of scrap wood, which towers over the show like a guardian deity. I also liked a sombre textually rich “painting” made of burned layers of bicycle tires and an installation of trees with rudimentary birdhouses by Dustin Fosnot; Sean Newport’s exquisitely crafted, subtly colored, carved wood pieces, which form amazing optical illusions; Brett Amory’s large-scale figurative painting “The Waiter,” and Alfred Vidauri’s hard-edged series of 21 portraits of men in ski masks.

Bridging the gap between the two strains, Luke Pelletier’s triptych “Touris Seizin’ ” harkens to street art but with a great deal of finesse, and Clorophillia’s (Ludovica Basso) deadpan photographs, with a subtle color palette, are smart and ironic. Again emphasizing the show’s focus on street art is a large mural by Bay Area artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham, who is known for his murals in Hawaii and San Francisco.

Overall, the show is an auspicious beginning for Verge, which is set to become one of the region’s premier art spaces.