(Thousand Oaks, Calif.) – Two exhibitions opening April 9 at the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO) will give visitors the opportunity to reflect on the concept of beauty in contemporary art and view the debut museum exhibition of the emerging visual artist and photographer, Jonathan Michael Castillo.

Defining Beauty, CMATO’s third annual international juried exhibition, features painting, mixed-media and video works by Zara Monet Feeney, Francene Levinson and Sungjae Lee. The artists were selected from nearly 1,000 submissions in all visual media as part of the museum’s open call.

Jonathan Michael Castillo: Car Culture, is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work and features his arresting, candid photographs that capture Los Angeles’s driving culture.

The exhibitions present a variety of experiences for the museum’s visitors following an extended closure due to COVID-19.

“We are excited to welcome our community back to CMATO with this unique and timely set of exhibitions that give visitors the opportunity to discover artists who are expressing ideas relevant to our time in visually dynamic ways,” said Lynn Farrand, Senior Curator, CMATO. “Both Defining Beauty and Jonathan Michael Castillo: Car Culture underscore CMATO’s commitment to presenting a range of artistic voices and ideas to our community.”

CMATO will present artist talks and art-related programs for the community to engage with the works on view. Program information will be posted on

Defining Beauty and Jonathan Michael Castillo: Car Culture are curated by Farrand. The exhibitions will be on view through August 8, 2021. An audio tour featuring curator insight and commentary will accompany the exhibits.


Defining Beauty

For as long as the concept of beauty has existed, it has been championed and idealized, challenged and questioned. Beauty as a concept — in art, culture and society — is ever-changing. It is also increasingly complex, as viewers and artists alike drive for deeper discussion around beauty in contemporary art.

Defining beauty historically depends on the arbiters of taste – who has the prevailing influence on what is fashionable or socially desirable. Beauty was once thought of akin to godliness, a representation of truth and goodness; however since the mid 20th century, originality in works of art were championed, that beauty was regulated to kitsch — something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue.

In Defining Beauty, the exhibiting artists embrace the beautiful with a contemporary perspective that brings depth, delight and dialogue for the viewer.

Featured artist Feeney, known for rich, tactile images that appear to seep off the canvas, eschews passive viewing in favor of an active perceptual experience. Her paintings feature fragments of the female form, layered imagery, saturated color notes and diffused lighting to create an illusory experience that is both complex and colorful, delivering a spectrum of transparency and opacity.

Levinson, a mixed-media artist and educator, creates abstract digital paintings that are influenced by abstract expressionism, the color field and op-art. Her work seeks to reveal the essence of forms, lines and space within balanced, dynamic compositions that depict a common sense of being. Her digital paintings utilize algorithms to control light, color, form and texture.

Multidisciplinary artist Lee expands objects that are minute, delicate and unpredictable, and his meticulous details draw oppositions between parts and entireties in his videos, installations, and drawings. Complexities build up simplicities, fragilities compose stabilities, and nothingness becomes something. Through such works and processes, Lee’s creations move very subtly, continuously transform, and gradually disappear as if they never existed.

Defining Beauty will include works by artists Karen Sikie, Martin Etem, Monica Wyatt and Yuliya Lanina. The exhibition will also feature The Memory Project, a participatory installation created by New York-based artist Christine Aaron, in which visitors write significant memories of their lives. The resulting artwork represents a joining of voices, where both participants and the audience can observe and experience the memories of one another.

Jurors for Defining Beauty include Timothy Hengst, professor of the Multimedia Program and Chair of the Art Department, California Lutheran University; Erika Lizee, Chair, Digital, Media and Visual Arts Department, Moorpark College, and Director, Moorpark College Art Gallery; Luke Matjas, Associate Professor and Chair of the Art Department, California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI); and Bob Moskowitz, Chair, Art Department, Ventura College.

Complementing Defining Beauty will be a showcase of local student artists from California Lutheran University, CSUCI, Moorpark and Ventura Colleges. Selected by the jurors, these artists provide an opportunity to view new work by young artists who are in the final stages of earning their fine arts degree.

CMATO’s Open Call program was established in 2017 to provide an avenue for artists to reach new audiences through the support of a curated museum exhibition.

Jonathan Michael Castillo: Car Culture

In his first museum exhibition, visual artist Jonathan Michael Castillo presents a collective study of Los Angeles and its residents. His photographs of people sitting in their vehicles, shot from the rear of his car, move between the familiar and the surreal. The photos feature individuals from all walks of life, their windshields offering a brief glimpse into their stories and lives: a woman in a green Volkswagen smokes a cigarette amid the party balloons filling her car. A couple stares straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts.

In Car Culture, Castillo is participating in a photographic tradition of documenting a way of life that is passing, enabling viewers to see a social life that is changing (or about to disappear). Now in a time when the foundation of the everyday has come a bit unmoored, his images take on a nostalgic hue – a signal to how his series will evolve over time.

Car Culture is both a study and interpretation of individuals who participate in the driving culture of the greater Los Angeles region. The space that these individuals inhabit while participating in this cultural behavior exists in a public space that also has a certain amount of perceived privacy. This perception serves to shield a vehicle’s occupant from the surrounding public arena and bring normally private moments into the public space.

Castillo conceived of the Car Culture project as an undergraduate student at Moorpark College and began developing the series while attending California State University Long Beach.

“Car Culture is an effort to create portraits of an extensive and permeating culture that has a large group of members but often has little communication, interaction or bonds between individuals,” Castillo said.

COVID-19 Precautions
Prior to visiting CMATO, visitors are encouraged to visit to read more about the museum’s reopening protocols. For the health and safety of all, visitors are required to wear a face mask and practice social distancing.

CMATO is open to the public Friday through Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00 PM. General admission is free; a $6 donation is suggested.

The California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO) is a cultural institution dedicated to engaging, educating and uplifting the human spirit through the palette of art. Established in 2008, the museum showcases established and emerging contemporary artists, with a unique focus on participatory art. As part of its mission to connect people to creativity, ideas and to each other, CMATO features rotating temporary exhibitions, artist lectures and educational programs that foster discussion, participation and an appreciation for the visual arts. To learn more or to become a museum member, visit


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