Cheap entertainment is something like the Holy Grail these days: forever sought and seldom approached. It may be cheap, but is it entertainment? Or vice versa. Well, window shopping at art galleries is the nearest I've come to the real thing in a long time, so you may want to consider some of these possibilities.
For my purposes, commercial galleries are ruled out: I require objects of value to admire without considering price tags — if there's a price on the picture, it damages my pure aesthetic appreciation and often brings out the mercenary lurking in my soul.
The first, most obvious place to look then, is the Fine Arts Gallery at Balboa Park. Not only are all the more traditional forms of art on display at the museum, but upwards of three shows at any given time offer variety, exotica, and local color. Frequently there will be one visiting exhibition of national interest and one of local artists, from school children to the San Diego Art Association or the Allied Craftsmen. These changing exhibits .are the lifeblood of museums, as they draw repeat customers who may already have seen the permanent collection. Since not all of the permanent collection of any museum is apt to be on view at any single time, changes in these displays are also good for another viewing. Every time I go to the Fine Arts Museum, different areas have been closed off temporarily for a change of display, rearrangement of walls or simply renovation. I rather like that: it breaks up the monotony of the same four walls at every turn.
One thing to be aware of when considering a visit to any gallery or museum: main are closed on Mondays so as to remain available on weekends. The Fine Arts Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
The La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art offers a rather different selection of art. It requires a broader mind or maybe just a sense of humor to enjoy the exhibits here. Usually there will be two of the more avant-garde stylists in the downstairs gallery space, and the work is generally of a more exotic nature than simple oils or watercolors: strips of painted canvas fluttering fairly free are recalled as the work of one local artist recently on exhibit and a series of utterly naturalistic oil paintings depending heavily on clothed monkeys and orangutangs for subject matter is also memorable. If the monthly show doesn't appeal to you. there is a slide show concerning the work of one or another artist upstairs, sharing space with pieces from the permanent collection, which is not particularly traditional, but for some reason (familiarity, perhaps) seems more comfortable and less outre to me than most of what is. seen downstairs. And if all this fails, the glassed-in porch at the back frames a fine view of the ocean that is my favorite piece in the museum. There is also the garden gallery, which tends to house over-size or especially outrageous works. I remember particularly an enormous mound of tumbleweed, and another time an artistic computer working out its designs. The La Jolla Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. on weekends. On Wednesday evenings, there are special hours from 7 to 10 p.m.
The next most likely source of art on exhibition is the college campus. From UCSD to the junior colleges, artistic endeavor is given free rein. There are several places at the UCSD campus in La Jolla to find art displays. First, there is the Art Gallery in the Humanities Library on Revelle Campus. Most of the work shown here is done by graduate art students at the university as part of their thesis completion, but an occasional visiting show breaks up the routine, or even selections from the Endowed Collection, some of which is on loan to the Fine Arts Museum in between campus showings. Since the new Mandeville Center opened last spring, you can find lovely things to look at there as well, and the undergraduate art gallery on Muir Campus gives the rest of the art department a chance. Even the Central Library offers some interesting pieces now and then, usually small, three dimensional objects, such as jewelry and ceramics or examples of beautiful book binding, that can be enclosed in a glass case.
As the largest local institute of higher learning. San Diego State offers examples of student work too. The Art Department Gallery is apt to be open any time during the school day. and yoq can wander through at your leisure. The Aztec Center has exhibits to offer as well, in the Casa Real.
USD's Founder's Gallery offers some of the classier exhibits in town, like works by Francoise Gilot in a one-woman show, as well as the usual examples of student work. Southwestern College in Chula Vista has offered such items of current interest as a Chicano art show and slide-lecture last semester. Grossmont College takes care of its students too. with regular shows of their work, which, considering the reputation of the Art Department faculty, ought to be of very high calibre. Art exhibits on college campuses, therefore, while not limited to departmental work, nevertheless tend strongly in that direction.
There are a couple of other stray places too. The Jewish Community Center, out on 54th near University Avenue, offers its gallery space to various local artists for three or four weeks at a time. The space is not large, but it's airy and light, and some of the work shown there is really lovely. The shows run through the fall, winter and spring, a month at a time. The Center is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday till 5 p.m. Sunday hours are 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and of course the center is closed on Saturdays.
Back at Balboa Park, the dedicated art lover should not ignore such possibilities as the Museum of Man and the Natural History Museum. It’s true, they aren't quite free, but they are cheap, and besides all their usual attractions, they frequently offer extra shows. At the Museum of Man, textiles and ceramics are a good bet: they have recently shown works of both the Potter’s and Weaver's Guilds in San Diego, and often there are native American pieces to be seen. The Museum of Man is open 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and if you're really strapped for cash, there's no admission charge on Wednesday. The Natural History Museum's displays of art are specialized too. They tend toward watercolors of local flora or exhibits of diamonds (I don't know about you. but to me, diamonds are art). The Natural History Museum is open on the same basis as the Museum of Man. Wednesday is a very good day to hit up the park.
And as a last resort, don't forget your local library. The Central branch of the San Diego City Library on E St. offers all kinds of art exhibits and displays of general interest. It's open weekdays till 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The only trouble is. it's closed on Sunday, but you can always pick up a book to see you through.