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di Rosa Art Gallery, Napa Valley

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“Oh, just look at this piece!” The woman in the flowing orange garments sighs as she gestures with a wide sweep of her bangled arm to a statue of a man with a shoe in his mouth. “What do youuuu think it meannnsss?” she says in a drawn-out, sing-songy voice. She then repeats the question to each of us, one by one, staring straight into our eyes and entreating us to dig deeper into our souls to find the true meaning of this piece of art.

sculpture of a man with a shoe in his mouth

The little girl next to me pipes up, “I think it means he’s hungry,” which elicits laughter from the whole group. I love this girl.

My first stop on my first trip to Napa Valley was the di Rosa, an eclectic, unique, and sometimes disturbing collection of modern-day art pieces, housed on more than 200 beautiful acres of wine country. As stated on the di Rosa website: “Considered the most significant holding of Bay Area art in the world, di Rosa houses approximately 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists.” What a great first stop.

The pieces sometimes made me cringe, like this piece consisting of a dead spider and a shriveled-up fish corpse:

spider artwork
Make no mistake–that spider is PART of the artwork
shriveled up fish artwork
And because a spider isn’t disgusting enough…we must add dead fish.

Others made me shudder, like this piece called “Contract II,” although it could’ve easily been called, “overly attached, psychotic girlfriend.” It’s a small box on the wall, with a sensor and wire. When you first approach it, a woman’s voice says soothingly, “I love you.” Then as you walk closer, she says, “You’re sensitive,” and “We should be together.” Then, when you’re right up to it, she says, “I wish you were dead.” Super creepy.

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    Contract II by Bruce Cannon
    Don’t be deceived by its plainness…

    Sometimes they made me laugh, like this painting “The Triumph of the S.S. San Francisco,” which depicts the constant fighting between Northern California and Southern California over which one is the superior part of the Golden State. NorCal won, obviously. Take note of the different major corporations’ logos on each ship, and which part of California they’re from.

    The Triumph of the S.S. San Francisco

    Most of the time, though, they made me go, “Huh?”

    colorful statue

    deer art

    picture of toast
    A picture of a piece of toast. Wait–that’s ART??

    I love that the tour of the place (mine lasted 1.5 hours, which wasn’t too long at all) is very mobile, taking you on a jitney ride, through indoor galleries, across fields, and then through the house of Rene di Rosa, the man who collected all this strange and wonderful art. Just going through the house gives you a strong sense of what he was like; he seems larger than life, this man who found a bell, then decided he’d buy it and build a bell tower in his house to place it in. The tour leaders said he threw the craziest parties–I believe it.


    inside of di Rosa Residence
    Inside the house of Rene di Rosa. The place is chock full of all sorts of quirky pieces.

    The tour was awesome, and the people who work and volunteer there are so passionate about art, especially di Rosa’s art; it’s very contagious.

    The best part of it all? I got to play artist–a big dream of mine. When I walked in, one of the art directors there asked me if I was an artist. I had to suppress the urge to squeal in delight. She pointed to my camera, “You’re a photographer.” Again, with the flattery! I blushed. “I wouldn’t call myself a photographer,” I said. “But I do enjoy taking photographs.”

    Burdened by the weight of everyone thinking I was an artist, I made sure to pause 20 seconds longer than I normally would have at each piece. I then tried to display that I was thinking profound, artsy things: I put my hand to my chin; I cocked my head to the side, the way my dog does when he’s trying really hard to understand what I’m telling him; I nodded.

    Whether you’re a real artist, or just a wannabe like me, you simply must visit the di Rosa.

    Tips to Know Before You Go

    The di Rosa

    Address: 5200 Sonoma Highway Napa, California 94559

    Website: http://www.dirosaart.org/


    NOV-APRIL: Wednesday-Sunday 10:00 am-4:00 pm. Closed Monday & Tuesday

    MAY-OCT: Wednesday-Sunday 10:00 am-6 pm. Closed Monday & Tuesday

    Price: $12-$15 for tours. I highly recommend that you go on a tour–it’s the only way you get to see all the collection spread across the vineyard. The 1.5-hour tour was just the right length, though I’m sure the 2-hour one would be great too.

    Tips: You do walk outside quite a bit, so wear comfortable shoes, and check the weather forecast before you go.