For more than two decades, an extensive art collection, housed on a large acreage along on Carneros Highway, has gone through a series of names, all variations on the last name of the unique venue’s founder: the late vintner and patron of the visual arts, Rene di Rosa.
The newest name for the 217-acre property, signaling a new direction for an arts destination — not precisely a museum — that is difficult to define, is the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. To mark the moment, di Rosa opens a new exhibit Saturday, Jan. 27, titled “Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times.”
The site was initially named di Rosa Preserve, with the added subtitle Art & Nature, and later as simply di Rosa, sometimes leaving the public feeling a little vague about the exact identity of the place. The new name should leave no doubt as to what the facility is all about, said Robert Sain, executive director at di Rosa since early 2016.
“You could say di Rosa is going back to its original roots, because the motivating force for Rene and his art collection was his interest in and enthusiasm for supporting Bay Area artists,” Sain explained. “We’re going to put a new focus on Bay Area artists engaged in social issues, and Renee was a really socially engaged guy.”
Part one of “Be Not Still” features art installations by Bay Area artists Ala Ebtekar, Rigo 23 and Allison Smith in the di Rosa collection’s main building, recently renamed Gallery 2 and open to the public by appointment for guided tours.
The exhibit also includes more than 50 works from di Rosa’s vast permanent collection of some 1,700 pieces, curated by authors Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killiam, on display at Gallery 1 (formerly the Gatehouse Gallery), located near the property’s main entrance and open for visitors five days a week. First opened to the public in 1997, and incorporated as a public trust in 2000, the di Rosa site also includes an outdoor sculpture meadow and the residence of di Rosa, who died in 2010. He had continued to live on the property after the death of his wife Veronica in 1991. The house, which is also an art gallery, is currently not open to the public but eventually will be again.
“We thought about how we could demonstrate a commitment to supporting artists and new work,” Sain said. “We decided we could dedicate our organization during the coming year to an investigation of post-election America. And we can do that by commissioning artists and inviting them to pick a topic within that theme.”
So when part one of “Be Not Still” closes in May, expect to see new work and new exhibits that continue to examine contemporary life in America, with part two opening in June. This, too, is true to the legacy of di Rosa, who collected art that was contemporary for him during his lifetime, Sain said.
“This is a socially engaged art collection,” he added. “These works are not 19th-century Hudson River landscapes.”
For the initial stage of the exhibit, the three artists commissioned to create work for the show each took a different approach to the overall theme of life in present-day America.