University Art Gallery re-opens with photography show

After facing the threat of closure most of last year, and a brief period when it was officially closed, the UC San Diego Art Gallery (UAG) in Mandeville Center has re-opened its doors on campus.

A warm and appreciative crowd gathered at the gallery Oct. 7, for a photography show of past and present faculty and alumni works that will remain on display through Dec. 9. The show signals that the gallery is back on track, and marks the start of a full year of programming, which will feature six exhibitions plus numerous speakers and guests.

“Extensions of Photography: A Visual Arts Faculty, Emeritus Faculty and Alumni Exhibition,” was inspired by a larger exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), 700 Prospect St. in La Jolla, called “Uses of Photography.”

Both shows explore the influential experiments of the UCSD-affiliated artists and alumni whose explorations with photography lead to the transformation of the medium beginning in the 1960s. “Uses of Photography” focuses on 1960 to 1985, while “Extensions of Photography” starts at 1986 and brings the exhibitions to the current period.

Collectively, they’re meant to kick off the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the UCSD Visual Arts Department. The anniversary has the theme “Art into Life,” derived from founding faculty member Allen Kaprow (famous for his “Happenings”) who said that, “The artist should blur the line between life and art.” The artists in the current exhibitions make reference to the use of themes from everyday life, while incorporating humor and questioning photography’s hidden conventions, and making explicit the politics involved in photographic representation.

The idea for a UCSD-based retrospective photography exhibit came from Jill Dawsey, MCASD gallery director who curated the show at her facility. She attended the UAG opening and spoke at length about her project.

Tatiana Sizonenko, who earned her Ph.D. from UCSD Visual Arts in 2013, curated the UAG show. In addition, she’s been busy teaching at Cal State Long Beach, Cal State San Marcos, Grossmont Junior College, UCSD Extension, and the Design Institute of San Diego. 

Sizonenko said she first received submissions from the artists by e-mail, and then had the ones she selected shipped to the gallery — some from quite far away — and began hanging and installing the works in July. 

Professor Jack Greenstein, a Renaissance art specialist who is the current chair of the Visual Arts Department, opened the evening with thank you’s to all who contributed to the show. He then put things into perspective, “This show opens our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the department. This show looks back. Next year we will look forward.” 

On hand for the opening was Gerry McAllister, who was UAG director for over 20 years. McAllister earned both her BA and MFA from the UCSD Visual Arts Department and stepped into the role of gallery chief after graduation.

Also present was former MFA alumni and department art instructor Peter Phillips, known for the giant M&M candies his students made and placed around Mandeville Auditorium during the undergraduate art shows. One of Phillips’ popular performance-art pieces was to drive a Chevy van converted into a military tank into the Price Center Plaza from which a horde of Hawaiian hula dancers emerged, followed by Phillips in a brass band uniform tooting on a trombone.

Another popular show built and directed by Phillips was “The Ark,” a huge wooden Noah’s Ark-like structure filled with art objects and surrounded by large paper-mâché animals, which was installed on Sun God lawn. 

The exhibit led one faculty member to point out that back in the day, when the entire department’s innovations in photography were taking place, the faculty wasn’t thinking about shifting the conventions of photography, but simply trying to make art. All the shifts in convention occurred as an afterthought or an unplanned development! 

Master works on display

Some of the most striking pieces in the UAG show include a long-frame photo of the backsides of a line of male and female Japanese full-body tattoo recipients by alumnus Kip Fulbeck, who now teaches at UC Santa Barbara. Then there are some of Eleanor Antin’s hyper-real staged photographs of people dressed in attire from the days of the Roman Empire, and a saucy black-and-white vaudeville film, depicting her fictional personality, Eleanor Antinova, the African-American ballerina. 

Kim MacConnel has lent giant photographs from his travels in Egypt that are quite complex, and Jean Lowe shares a huge photograph of what looks like a bookshelf full of books that might be found in the library at the House at Pooh Corner. 

Coming next to UAG

The winter quarter show will be, “Harold Cohen, Creating Computational Creativity,” honoring the memory of Professor Cohen, a pioneer in computing and the arts. The spring quarter exhibition is titled, “Making Communities: Art and The Border,” a multi-media exhibition of art practices related to the border. The school year finale will feature the undergraduate art show and another titled, “Now Again: A Survey of UAG Artists.”

IF YOU GO: University Art Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday in Mandeville Center. Admission is free. A related exhibit, “Artists and Language,” is on display at UCSD’s Geisel Library through Jan. 8. It covers the print publications of faculty and graduate students associated with the Visual Arts Department. For more information, visit uag.ucsd.edu

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