“Venice: Now & Then” explores — and preserves — an evolving creative culture

Ned Evans’ “WIOTA,” acrylic on canvas, 1983

Venice artist Juri Koll founded the Venice Institute for Contemporary Art to identify, protect and sustain the history and culture of the local arts scene he’s been part of for decades. As Venice changes, Koll’s organization stands as a guidepost to keep the community from abandoning its creative soul.

On Saturday, ViCA examines Venice’s arts evolution across the decades with the opening of “Venice Now & Then,” an exhibit featuring one vintage and one contemporary work from a dozen established artists with significant local ties: Martha Alf, John Baldessari, Bob Branaman, Jean Edelstein, Doug Edge, Ned Evans, Scott Grieger, Victor Henderson, Ann McCoy, Catherine Ruane, Rena Small and Koll himself.

Baldessari, for example, is showing a brand-new screenprint alongside a 1984 poster protesting American military intervention in Central America.

Many of these artists sustained their careers through early iterations of the Venice Art Walk and the sense of community that developed out of it.

“Venice is about community — taking care of each other, watching each other’s backs,” says Koll. “The Venice Art Walk was one way they sustained themselves, but also because they supported each other.”

Perhaps the crowning piece of the exhibit is a 70-page companion book of art, essays and stories that takes readers on a visual and narrative journey through the eyes of these artists from the 1960s to today.

“When a lot of artists moved here in the late ’60s, there were still a lot of oil derricks around. We’ve got some stories in here that are really a trip,” Koll says.

— Joe Piasecki

“Venice Now & Then” opens from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, in the Mike Kelley Gallery at Beyond Baroque, 681 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. The book is available for $25 at the opening, and later at local bookstores and amazon.com. Exhibit viewings continue at various times and by appointment through Sept. 9. Call (310) 957-7037 or visit veniceica.org.