Walking through the grounds of the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, it would be easy to say the place hasn’t changed much since the historic villa was built 110 years ago for Sen. James D. Phelan. But it has changed — especially in the way Montalvo’s leadership handles the legacy of Phelan, a racist who sought to keep California white during his time.
After Phelan died in 1930, the 160-acre estate — now 175 acres — was left to Santa Clara County with the condition the property be used to further the development of art, literature, music and architecture. The Montalvo Arts Center’s newest outdoor exhibition, “Claiming Spaces: Refiguring the Body in Landscape,” is a stellar addition to the grounds that features work by a diverse range of artists who provide a counterpoint to the traditional sculptures that fill most of our civic spaces, including Montalvo.
“We started looking for monumental works that could hold the space and command a presence — and even have a dialogue with the classical statues,” said Kelly Sicat, director of Montalvo’s Lucas Artists Program, who curated the exhibition with Donna Conwell.
Mission accomplished. “Claiming Spaces,” which runs through Oct. 15, presents and represents bodies and their features in ways we’re not used to seeing.
Alison Saar’s sublime “Winter” and two marble sculptures by Oliver Lee Jackson challenge our norms, while Wanxin Zhang’s “Color Face” represents an evolution of the traditional busts on Montalvo’s “poet walk” while also directly addressing Phelan’s biases (as he sought to keep people who looked like Zhang out of the state). Hank Willis Thomas’ stunning “Strike” — a polished steel arm grasping another wielding a nightstick — looks like something out of the social justice confrontations of the summer of 2020, though it was based on a 1935 lithograph.
Pilar Agüero-Esparza’s 20-foot-long installation, “Of Color,” may be the most subversive of all. The San Jose artist’s sculpture of leather woven like Mexican huarache sandals is painted in the “skin tone” colors found in a box of crayons. It has a Diego Rivera vibe, seeming ancient and modern at the same time, and stands out brilliantly among the greenery in the Italianate garden, urging conversation.
“This is what we do,” Sicat said. “Letting artists have a public space to push the envelope. And Pilar did it.”
As a public park, Montalvo’s grounds are free to visit nearly every day of the year from 8 a.m. (9 a.m. on weekends) to 5 p.m., with some exceptions listed at www.montalvoarts.org. “Claiming Spaces” is worth a visit — or even more — and in this exhibition, you’ll undoubtedly see beauty that Montalvo’s original owner couldn’t recognize for himself.
PETERS’ DESERVES BETTER: Peters’ Bakery on Alum Rock Avenue has been an institution in East San Jose since the late 1930s, with its famous burnt almond cake delivering the goods at countless birthday parties (and even more so since Dick’s Bakery on Meridian closed after a 2016 fire).
So it was terrible to hear that its employees were robbed at knife-point by five people early Wednesday morning. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the robbery, which was caught on video and is being investigated by San Jose police. But robbing Peters’ Bakery is like taking off with the poor box from the Sistine Chapel. There should be a special place for those thieves somewhere a lot warmer than a bakery.
SUPERVISORS HONOR COMMUNITY HERO: Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors adjourned last Tuesday’s meeting in memory of Jenny Do, a majestic figure in San Jose’s Vietnamese American community who died Aug. 4 at age 56. An attorney, artist and activist, Do was probably best known for the annual Ao Dai Festival, which she launched to celebrate Vietnamese art and culture and which probably introduced the elegant and ornate ao dai garment to many Silicon Valley residents.
The child of a Vietnamese mother and an unknown American father, Do came to the United States in 1984 under the AmerAsian Homecoming Act and later went back to Vietnam to help others do the same. An attorney by trade and a philanthropist by nature, she helped people affected by the 2017 Coyote Creek flood in San Jose as well as those hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic through the Friends of Hue foundation.
“Her philanthropic work has really left us all better and our community healthier. She was a visionary, an activist and an artist who filled every room she came in with incredible energy and really had a way of lifting a room up,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who called her a “boundary-crossing leader.” “She changed lives. She challenged outdated notions of race and gender and saw that art was a way to bring people together and comfort them.”
SEASON OF CHANGE: A few Silicon Valley nonprofit organizations are updating their leadership rosters as we get ready to leave summer and head into fall. The Castellano Family Foundation has said farewell to Angie Briones, who had been its director of grantmaking and strategic initiatives since 2012. Briones is the new managing director of Quinteto Latino, the music ensemble whose artistic director is Armando Castellano (who has shifted to a role as emeritus trustee for the family foundation).
Unity Care, which provides services and housing for youth transitioning out of foster care for 29 years, announced that Sheila E. Mitchell will succeed founder Andre Chapman as the nonprofit’s CEO. Mitchell had most recently served as deputy chief of probation in Los Angeles County, and before that served as Unity Care’s chief operating officer and chief of probation in Santa Clara County.
And Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence has hired Colsaria Henderson as its new executive director, replacing Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, who became chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Zoe Loefgren’s San Jose office in April. Henderson is returning to Next Door Solutions, where she was director of programs from 2014 to 2018 before leaving to become executive director of San Mateo-based Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA), a post she held until 2020.