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Landing Page: Artistic Expression

One Man’s Passion is Wine Country’s Treasure

On a pastoral hillside in southern Napa County, a permanent flock of sheep grazes in blissful serenity. Seeing sheep along a hillside in Napa isn’t unusual at all. But this small flock is different—they pose with remarkable stillness, as if transfixed on a particular blade of grass. On closer inspection, the sheep aren’t grazing on anything at all. Rather, they invite the gaze of passersby and visitors to the di Rosa Preserve (5200 Carneros Hwy, 1-707-226-5991; www.dirosapreserve.org).

The sheep in fact aren’t real. They are art. And they’re an apt welcoming committee for one of Napa’s most unexpected treasures—an odd, engaging, funny, and important collection of art that wonderfully exemplifies both a regional aesthetic and a personal passion. The di Rosa Preserve is one of the most significant art collections of its kind. And beyond the collection itself, its location, on 217 rural acres in the heart of Carneros, makes it one of the most unexpected delights anywhere. Like a perfectly wrapped present from the collector for which it’s named — Rene di Rosa — the Preserve offers visitors a tour de force presentation of work by Northern California artists weighing in at more than 2,300 works ranging from the abstract to the impressionistic to the surreal.

The di Rosa Preserve is one of my favorite attractions in all of Wine Country—that is, among those that don’t directly involve wine. But actually the di Rosa Preserve does indirectly involve wine. Following a particularly successful grape-growing career, di Rosa decided to transform his acreage into an art preserve with the express mission of showcasing art in all its myriad forms by Northern California artists. Di Rosa has collected art for decades and combined with the impressive collection of his late wife, Veronica—herself an artist—the total over the years is impressive indeed.

So to share their artistic expression with an interested public, the di Rosa Preserve was born. Established on a part of his 460 Carneros estate, which includes a beautiful century-plus-old stone winery, the preserve not only houses and displays the art collection, but also serves as a wildlife refuge and home to several species of migratory birds. The collection is housed in three large galleries and displayed in both permanent and changing installations.

Visiting the Preserve has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel, like you never know what kind of amazing character you might encounter around the next corner. The collection is nothing if not eclectic, an eye-popping, head-scratching array of artistic indulgence, running the gamut from whimsical to provocative and not infrequently esoteric. On view are works by artists both obscure and celebrated. Di Rosa has room for and eagerly welcomes struggling regional artists, happily positioning their work among that by such names as Robert Arneson, Robert Bechtle, and Peter Voulkos.

One of the most powerful installments at the Preserve (and among my personal favorites) is Chartres Bleu, by Paul Kos, an original installation at the Preserve that the artist has duplicated for many gallery shows and retrospectives since creating it in 1986. The installation features a stack of 27 TV monitors that display the passage of time through stained-glass windows that the artist filmed in the choir ambulatory of the cathedral at Chartres. The monitors, stacked to look like the original window, show a time-lapse day’s worth of light condensed into a 12-minute sequence. The effect is as much wow-that’s-cool as it is contemplative. You can easily stand and watch the light change for several cycles before realizing there’s so much more to see.

Indeed the grounds outside are as beguiling as the installations indoors. The small lake lends a degree of bucolic serenity until you spot the metal cow walking atop it. That tree looks normal until you spot the car hanging from the branches. It’s all par for the course at the di Rosa Preserve, where the sheep don’t actually graze, but they might just pull the wool over your eyes.

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