Barry McGee

Barry McGee

Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara presented Barry McGee: SB Mid Summer Intensive – a solo exhibition featuring a sprawling installation of paintings, drawings and sculptural objects by San Francisco-based artist Barry McGee. McGee embraces improvisation as a guiding principle in his work, finding a balance between chaos and meticulous attention to detail. Constellations and groupings of drawings and sculptures are juxtaposed against found objects, ephemera and collected works by other artists.

McGee’s multilayered imagery is born out of elements of the urban experience, including issues of identity, homelessness and pointed critiques on consumerism and commercialism. Emblematic characters appear slumped and droopy-eyed, whose faces shift with wistful and sullen expressions. Framed drawings of these faces hang alongside candid photography and patterned graphics in an immense “boil” that bulges from the wall, creating a visual wave of energy that permeates throughout the Museum.

In this expansive exhibition the old is interlaced with the new. Rather than highlighting individual works, McGee has produced an environment at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara that immerses visitors into decades’ worth of McGee’s practice. The resulting display is best characterized by its spontaneous, perpetual evolution. It is in this realm that McGee also pays tribute to the Santa Barbara community. Elements of surfing history are threaded throughout the exhibition, including a gallery dedicated to surfing legend Reynolds Yater. Surfboards shaped by Yater are stacked floor to ceiling and accompanied by photographs from the surfer’s personal archives. 2018 Surfers’ Hall of Fame inductee Herbie Fletcher and his wife Dibi Fletcher have also contributed works to the exhibition.

McGee’s attention to community extends to the “L. Fong Healing Arts Centre,” two rooms paying homage to local artists and McGee’s friends, who were invited to contribute to the space. Well-worn couches and vintage lamps become part of the landscape in what feels more like a crowded basement living room than a gallery. The flicker of stacked TVs play home video footage shot on McGee’s personal travels and surfing trips, in addition to films shot by professional surfers.

In advance of the exhibition opening, McGee invited Noriyuki Ushio, owner of Scooters for Peace (, to create a pop-up shop that featuring limited-edition works designed by artists, handcrafted Japanese items, and vintage goods. McGee has also partnered with professional skateboarder Elissa Steamer to create two limited edition beach towel designs that will be available for purchase at MCASB by August 1st. Exhibition sponsors are RVCA [] and Scooters for Peace (www.scootersforpeace. com).