“A Place for Everything, and Everything in its Place,” an exhibition of paintings, photography, works on paper, glass and sculpture owned and collected by Cal State Fullerton’s College of the Arts, is chock-full of surprises.
First, there’s a large number of high caliber of artists represented. There are Andy Warhol silkscreens, which the college is displaying for the first time. You’ll find a small print by acclaimed Romantic artist Francisco Goya. A brightly colored silk screen from Spanish surrealist Joan Miro. Lithographs by minimalism’s Ellsworth Kelly, UC Irvine alum Alexis Smith, pop artist Ed Ruscha and neo-Dadist Robert Rauschenberg, among other well-known modernist and contemporary artists.
Then there are works by former students, professors and community members, some less well-known, but displaying striking artistry. Some of these pieces feel deeply personal. Former art professor Leo Robinson is represented with a nearly full-size pointillist self-portrait with his parents — and a monkey. And there’s emeritus professor Don Lagerberg’s handmade retirement card for ground-breaking gallery director and sculptor Dextra Frankel, whom Lagerberg depicts as Wonder Woman. The tribute card was never intended to be publicly displayed, but it’s perfectly appropriate for this space, the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery, which Frankel ran from 1967 to 1991.
If you’re fortunate enough to get a tour of “A Place for Everything” from Jennifer Frias, the show’s curator and the Begovich’s new gallery director, she’ll point out other treats – and you’ll get a deeper understanding for the second half of the show’s title, “and Everything in its Place.” Frias, who started as director in July, got her MFA degree in exhibition design at CSUF, a program that Frankel started. What matters is not just which pieces Frias selected for the show, but how and where they’re hung on the walls.
The back gallery is installed salon style – a large grouping not at eye level but beginning much lower and ending almost at the ceiling. Frias said she chose the display for these works by students, faculty, and others to suggest that “you don’t have to be someone famous to be in a museum.” There’s even an anonymous painting, which Frias assumes a student simply left in a studio.
Snapshots taken by Andy Warhol, on the other hand, are lined up straight on the top, but with the bottoms of the frames randomly arranged. Frias found her inspiration for this grouping from iconic New York City restaurants that hang photos of famous people who have dined there. “And in the eyes of Warhol everyone is famous. I was thinking of Warhol and his 15 minutes of fame,” Frias said.
The installation, Frias summarized, “was all pretty strategic. For me, design really helps tell a story and guides your patrons, guides your eyes into seeing that there is a story. I think design should create intrigue, but mainly design is about function.”
“A Place for Everything” includes about 40 percent of the college’s 600-piece art collection. The show has proved so popular that it has been extended to February 22, and students will visit during spring semester classes. Frias said when she was a grad student, she had no appreciation of the depth of the collection; she and others in the program were more focused on curating their thesis shows than exploring the college-owned artwork.
But staff members of the Department of Visual Arts had recently finished an inventory of the collection, which retired faculty member and well-known printmaker G. Ray Kerciu started in 1963. The list of artworks was a revelation to Frias, and she decided to delve into the permanent collection for her debut show. She met with Kerciu at his home in Laguna Beach to talk about the artwork; blown-up archive photographs of Kerciu and past gallery directors Frankel, Mike McGee and emeritus dean Jerry Samuelson greet visitors near the entrance to the show.
When the exhibition ends, Frias doesn’t intend to put everything back in storage. She wants to create a back room in the gallery in which different pieces from the collection will be on permanent display. She also hopes to start an internship program so students can learn how to take care of and use a collection.
Frias succeeds director McGee (1992-2018), who like Frankel was also a faculty member. The job now is an administrative rather than a faculty position, a small distinction as far as the public is concerned, but one that should give Frias more time to devote solely to the gallery. One of Frias’ primary goals is to make the exhibitions accessible to everyone, no matter how much a viewer knows about art.
“Art shouldn’t be discouraging,” said Frias, who has a bachelor’s degree from UC Riverside in art history and creative writing. “The kind of programming I hope to implement here are things where the conversation (about the art) could be looked at on many levels. Someone who is in academe can access (the art) and if someone who’s never been in a gallery came in, they can feel encouraged and not sorry they came into the gallery.”
Frias, who previously worked at the Huntington Library and Art Museum in San Marino and at the UCR/California Museum of Photography, will be very busy for months to come with some fundamental duties. The Begovich Gallery needs a mission statement that covers future acquisitions and collecting as well as how it can be accessed for research purposes. Frias would like to see an acquisitions fund established to purchase artwork. There was a period when it was understood that the gallery would accept all donations; currently, artwork must be approved by a collections committee.
Then there’s 2020 to prepare for and the 50th anniversary of the visual arts buildings. Frias’ three shows in the fall include new works by graduate alumni Ann Phong and Teresita de la Torre, and an exhibit that focuses on the exhibition archives. In the spring, Kim Abeles’ important environmental work, “Smog Collector Series – 1987 – 2020,” will be displayed in its entirety for the first time.
“I plan to expand the breadth of the collection and feature exhibitions by reflecting on the relevance of our time and the diversity of the campus and its surrounding community,” Frias said.
Laura Bleiberg is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.