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Museum celebration honors the past, looks to the future

3.3.2014

By Dave Jones

'Art in the Making'

Video (6 min 55 sec)

Videography by Joe Proudman

Photo: Maria Manetti Shrem and Jan Shrem, with hard hats and gold shovels

Maria Manetti Shrem and Jan Shrem prepare for the groundbreaking for the art museum that bears their name. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

STUDENT INVOLVEMENT

The groundbreaking program opened with three students, describing how they are contributing to the museum's development:

Ben Castle — I am working on the new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art by working with other art history students to explore new ways to engage younger and more diverse audiences for the arts by experimenting with new curatorial techniques. Our first experiment, the Davis Art Salon, brought students and community artists together. When the new Shrem opens you will find me in the galleries. I’ll be working on using new technologies to gather public opinion so that all visitors to the museum can become exhibition curators.

Arielle Hardy — I am working on the new Shrem Museum by helping to manage UC Davis’ Fine Arts Collection. I’ve received art off the truck, I’ve pulled art for classes to view and I’m working with my fellow students to research unknown treasures in our collection. When the new museum opens you’ll find me in the collection classroom. I’ll be caring for artworks and preparing for more students to have access to this amazing resource.

Erin Dorn — As I finish my master’s thesis in art history, I have been able to gain professional experience by working on the new Shrem Museum. I am working with an artist to organize his collection and I am preparing my first exhibition drawn from a local photography collection. When the new museum opens, you’ll find me in the indoor-outdoor art studio and the community education space. I’ll be touring high school students and working with undergrads on hands-on art-making workshops. We want the museum to inspire creativity, and already we’re developing ideas for programs that will excite our fellow students.

Ben, Arelle and Erin — Together we are making the Shrem Museum today so that it can be a vital addition to the university of tomorrow.

“Coach” Rachel Teagle rallied her “incredible team” Saturday (March 1) — artists, students, faculty, alumni, staff, community members, philanthropists, architects, lighting experts and contractors — for the next phase of creating the university’s art museum.

“OK, friends, we have some work to do,” said Teagle, wearing a hard hat, before she and percussion-playing members of the UC Davis Samba School led more than 500 people out of Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, and across the street to the groundbreaking ceremony for the $30 million Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the campus’s south entry.

Teagle, the museum's founding director, and her excited entourage made one stop along the way, on the Mondavi Center plaza, to admire former art professor William T. Wiley’s Gong, and to hear him strike the massive piece. The museum's development, Wiley said, "is just beautiful, for the community, the students, for art, for life."

More about the gong: story, slideshow and Vine video.

Two other esteemed art emeriti joined Wiley at the Saturday afternoon program: Manuel Neri and Wayne Thiebaud. The three lead donors, Napa winemaker Jan Shrem and his wife, arts patron Maria Manetti Shrem, and longtime UC Davis benefactor Margrit Mondavi, also attended.

The groundbreaking culminated a two-year process that included workshops on campus and in the community, to brainstorm museum plans; an international design competition that led to a 29,000-square-foot series of interconnected interior and exterior spaces under a 50,000-square-foot “Grand Canopy”; and extensive collaboration with faculty and students who will use the new museum for teaching, learning and creating.

To show what they’ve been doing and continue to do for the museum’s development, dozens of faculty members and students presented displays inside and outside the Mondavi Center’s Yocha Dehe Grand Lobby. The participants came from design, art studio, art history, creative writing and the California Lighting Technology Center.

Design students Alexis Agoustari and Hydie Pavick showed a cardboard prototype of their "Porcupine Chair," which could end up in the museum. "It's incongruous, right?" Agoustari asked. "A chair with pointed slats ought to be uncomfortable and impossible. We are making it possible and comfortable."

The "Porcupine Chair" fit nicely with Teagle's declaration to the Jackson Hall audience: "It is my objective to intrigue you, cajole you and excite you enough that you will choose to join our museum team as each in our own way we set out to tackle the dynamic process of creating a new museum.

“Defining the new museum requires the vision and dedication of many individuals who are willing to come together to pursue something new.

“Luckily for us, this kind of innovation happened before at UC Davis,” she said, referring to art department founder Richard Nelson and the faculty he assembled in the 1950s and '60s, people like Wiley, Neri and Thiebaud, “each with dramatically different ideas and approaches, so that together they could build an art department that quickly became the top of its field.”

Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, said: “We’re able to break ground because some great people have laid a firm foundation. It all started with teaching … a commitment to exploration and teaching in the arts.”

That commitment continues in the new museum’s mission, said Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, and in its layout — with prominent spaces designated for working studio and classroom space. “Programmed into the museum’s DNA is the belief that all who enter become students again,” she said.

In “Art in the Making,” a video played during the program, Katehi talks about a colleague who once asked her: “With sciences we discovered nature, with engineering we discovered technology, (but) what is the role of art?”

“And I thought,” Katehi recalls, “with art we discover ourselves.”

Jan Shrem also appears in the video: “For a future student I would say that like myself I began with art illuminating my life and showing me a road from which to partake and to benefit from. And that road has shown me that it has so many riches, and so many directions, so many facets, that it truly made my life happy and successful.

"And I would recommend every student to approach art as a beginning or as an inspiration for their future and for their education.

‘Dreams coming true’

The speakers thanked the Shrems and Mondavi for their gifts, Chancellor Katehi for her commitment to the project and Dean Owens for hers in shepherding the long-planned museum to reality. Owens also credited Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef, who, in his inaugural address in 1994, pledged that UC Davis would have a performance center (“this wonderful Mondavi Center”), an art museum and a music recital hall.

“It took a while, but all three dreams are finally coming true,” Owens said to a round of applause.

Katehi described the “Grand Canopy” as an “outward symbol of our ambition to emphasize artists who are exploring new concepts and new approaches, crossing disciplines to include performance, music, theater, dance and science at times, and in many other areas of style, of course, and creativity, just as the founders of the Department of Art and the Fine Arts Collection did more than 50 years ago.”

Back then, Owens said, “UC Davis was a sleepy farm campus in the middle of the Central Valley, (and) you have to admit it, a very unlikely place for what would happen.”

Nelson’s eye for talent proved to be exceptional, Owens said. “He was able to bring to UC Davis a collection of then little known artists with diverse philosophies, and he gave them a mandate to teach and the freedom to create.

“By defying preconceived notions of art and challenging expectation of material and form, the art department developed a style, an attitude that was distinctly Davis,” Owens said.

“As we celebrate this new beginning, let me say loud and clear, the Shrem Museum is a museum that knows where it came from. It honors the past and the community that gave it such a great beginning.”

Online

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

“UC Davis opens new chapter as it breaks ground for new art museum,” news release (March 1, 2014)

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