See ‘Phenomenal’ exhibit before last day

by John Anderson

Courtesy of Sarah Lowry
Courtesy of Sarah Lowry

While some of the most memorable and exciting exhibitions to come through the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego have featured street art and graffiti, the latest works on display demonstrate art of a different sort.

A quick glance at the title of the exhibition fails to inspire overwhelming enthusiasm. It sounds like the exhibit would be better suited in an IKEA than the MCASD, but “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” is far from boring. The artists, including Robert Irwin and Craig Kauffman, use optical illusions, tricks of light, projections and nonstandard surfaces to amuse and delight.

“Phenomenal” is the MCASD’s contribution to “Pacific Standard Time,” a celebration of artistic movements in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980. The exhibition seeks to capture the use of light as a medium, which became popular in Los Angeles in the ‘60s.

The pieces in the exhibition are all extremely accessible. Enjoying the surprises and illusions with families, couples and solo art enthusiasts is part of the fun. Exclaiming and sharing excitement makes this more of a community adventure than an art show.

The exhibits have visitors leaning through walls, stumbling in the dark and putting their faces inches away from projected surfaces. Exhibits range from occupying small sections of wall to filling entire halls.

“The best part of it was the illusion, it wasn’t what it first appeared,” studio art senior Milada Belohlavek said. “The message on perception is what I really took away from it. What it had to say was really profound, which is cool because people throw a lot into their art that doesn’t get that response from me.”

All three locations are featuring “Phenomenal.” MCASD is free to everyone ages 25 and younger. The La Jolla exhibition closes on Sunday, the Jacobs and Copley Buildings near the Sante Fe Depot close on Feb. 5 and the gallery across the street at 1001 Kettner closes on March 4. Time is running out, so visit before it’s gone.

For more information about “Pacific Standard Time,” including performance schedules and affiliated exhibitions, visit

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