‘It Came from Venice’ … again Bruce Meade and Gerry Fialka revive the eclectic arts happening born out of the former Sponto Gallery
By Michael Aushenker
They could just as easily say “It Came from Venus.”
An all-out assault on the senses through fine arts, music and poetry readings, the happening formerly known as “It Came from Venice” is back for three Saturday nights in March — billed “The Return of It Came from Venice.”
Taking the very 21st-century form of a pop-up art show, “Return” ushers back the otherworldly Sponto-era Venice multi-media arts shows that Venice residents Bruce Meade and Gerry Fialka organized in the mid-2000s.
The idea has always been “let’s bring in some of the boardwalk artists, musicians and poets,” Meade said. “Back in the days when Sponto Gallery was still around, every few years we’d have a show for people who had no connections with a gallery, just wanted to do their art. We would invite them to have a show; give them the wall space.”
“Sponto” refers to late artist and curator Mark “Sponto” Kornfeld, who nurtured Venice’s creative scene for 24 years at his 7 Dudley Ave. venue.
The old Sponto Gallery space came with bohemian, Beats-era baggage. From 1958 to 1966, the location housed the Venice Beats oasis Venice West Café, where the likes of artists Wallace Berman and Earl Newman, underground film star Taylor Mead, filmmaker Leland Auslender, photographers Charles Brittin and Harry Drinkwater and musicians Robby Krieger and John Densmore of The Doors would hang out. Artists Eric “Big Daddy” Nord and Ron Boise and politically charged comedian Mort Sahl also frequented West Café.
After Kornfeld died in 2008, neighboring Italian restaurant Piccolo took over 7 Dudley and incorporated it into the business.
But the stage for a sequel was set eight months ago, when neighboring Henry’s Market at 9 Dudley lost its lease. Though it’s likely another market will move into that space soon, the man in charge of 9 Dudley, Cadillac Hotel founder Sris Sinnathamby, remembered Sponto’s art happenings and suggested Meade and Fialka utilize the space during the interim time.
“He’s been very nice and honoring the spirit of art,” Meade said of Sinnathamby.
For Meade and Fialka, this go-around is the fourth-ever show in the “It Came from Venice” legacy. The previous one occurred in 2006.
“It was so aggressively non-commercial. You can do what you want to do,” Meade said. “No one was going to sell anything anyway.”
This time around, there are 35 pieces representing 17 artists — boardwalk artists La Marche, Vincent Digaetano and Jason Chrisman among them. Meade is also contributing a photographic portrait of legendary jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, while collagist Randi Hall is making a rare appearance.
Anyone who reads poetry is entered in a drawing for $50 — not a bad paycheck for a poem these days.
Local bands Venice Street Legends, Black Shoe Polish, Slavin’ David and The Nicknamers join DJ Rev. Dan in providing a soundtrack for the exhibition’s opening and after-party.
“After the poetry, everybody dances. It’s very Dionysian,” Meade said.
As Venice continues to evolve, the timing may be right for an “It Came from Venice” revival.
“It’s funny, because even though I do not consider myself a true long-time Venetian, the swift and dramatic changes around here often make me the one in a group who has first-hand knowledge of some of its legendary people and local lore. I was walking on Ocean Front Walk one day when I overheard a young girl ask her boyfriend who Jim Morrison was,” said participating artist Barbara Mastej, who was friends with Kornfeld and will contribute the acrylic painting “Cosmo” to “Return.”
“The Return of It Came From Venice” happens from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the new Sponto Gallery, 9 Dudley Ave., Venice. The show is free to attend and continues on March 8 and 15. For more information, visit laughtears.com/ItCameFromVenice2014.html.