Shuttered since 2006 for renovation and reorganization, the University Art Gallery at UC San Diego will reopen in January with “In the Beginning,” an exhibition conceived and organized by Stephen Hepworth, the new curator for the UAG recently recruited from London. The show will feature contemporary artists from around the world who use text in their work – and will, as Hepworth put it, “saturate” the extensively renovated space with words. The exhibition – of drawing, painting, sculpture, video and multimedia installation – “takes its cue,” Hepworth said, “from the strong involvement West-Coast artists have had with text, particularly during the 1970’s, and will look at a newer international generation of artists whose practice focuses on the importance of appearance and form as much as what the words say.”
Invited artists include Ricci Albenda, Fiona Banner, Peter Davies, Tami Demaree, Graham Gilmore, Emma Kay, Justin Lieberman, Joăo Louro, Ján Mančuška, T. Kelly Mason, Dominic McGill, Aaron Parazette, Fernando Pintado, Monique Prieto, Mayer Schindler, Danielle Gustafson-Sundell, Bob and Roberta Smith, Mark Titchner and Cerith Wyn Evans.
Hepworth has selected work that demonstrates “wit and play,” he said.
Peter Davies will show a new work called “Where Are They Now?” – which Hepworth describes as “a cheeky tribute to once-fashionable artists.” Emma Kay will screen her video “History of the World from Memory,” complete with misremembered details, “flowing back into space as though it were the opening text of ‘Star Wars,’” said Hepworth. And Mark Titchner, short-listed for the Turner Prize, is contributing a 20-foot long billboard proclaiming that “Another World Is Possible.”
“Fun is something I really like,” Hepworth said, “and fun is hard work – it’s not easy to do.”
“In the Beginning” marks the start of a new era for the University Art Gallery. The gallery is once again aligned with the Department of Visual Arts, and it will also now feature a year-round schedule of exhibitions and related events.
“We’re very excited,” said Lesley Stern, chair of Visual Arts, who as chair serves as the gallery’s director. “Once again the gallery will become a lively part of the university and of the larger San Diego-Tijuana-L.A region. In time we hope to extend to an international presence.”
Hepworth was recruited, in part, for his international sensibilities. He has served as curator at London’s Jerwood Gallery and Bloomberg SPACE, and as director of the large nonprofit The Tannery.
“Stephen has a sophisticated knowledge about contemporary art, coupled with an incredible imagination and energy for start-ups,” Stern said. “He has been particularly successful at opening interesting venues in interesting places and at building identities for these that were right for the art world and for their particular contexts – their geography and their communities.”
Hepworth has been charged, Stern said, with reflecting the breadth of the UCSD Department of Visual Arts, which ranges from traditional studio art to new-media theory, and with utilizing its talents (though not in the direct sense of showing faculty works, which the gallery has no plans of doing). It is also part of Hepworth’s charter, Stern said, to reach out to other disciplines on campus, as well as to institutions in town and far afield.
Every show, Stern said, will be accompanied by a series of related events: lectures, panel discussions and artists’ talks.
“We want the gallery to be a ‘communications node’ and an important exhibiting venue,” Stern said. “The wonderful thing about an academic setting is having more freedom to innovate, and we hope to take full advantage of that.”
Hepworth added that he hopes to “have the opportunity to bring new voices to San Diego” and “have a space that exists in dialogue with local, regional, national and international audiences.”
Hepworth is planning five gallery exhibitions per year – three seven-week shows and one 10-week show, along with an annual four-week showcase of graduating UCSD MFA students.
Though the exhibitions and related events will be the core of the program, Hepworth said he also aims to program a number of art projects: including outdoor murals and deck chairs and flags created by invited artists.
“These things will happen throughout the year,” Hepworth said. “These will not be permanent, like the university’s amazing Stuart Collection .They will colonize the campus briefly and then disappear again.” Also, typifying his approach, each of these ideas is meant to grab the attention not only of art connoisseurs but just about anyone who happens on them.
Before Hepworth turned his creativity to curating, he had himself been a successful artist (showing in such spaces as the Serpentine Gallery in London and the ICA in Amsterdam). Some of his curatorial philosophy seems to spring from those roots.
In addition to having a new floor installed in the gallery, Hepworth has reconfigured the interior so that passersby (on Ridge Walk) can get a peek at what’s on offer inside.
“I want people to be able to drop in and experience the gallery. You don’t need to lecture about art,” Hepworth said. “Art is not just something that sits on the wall. It’s something you can interact with. It’s not just an untouchable object on a pedestal – that you can’t question or doubt or cast aspersions on. You have to puncture’s art’s ‘aura’ a little or you can’t get closer to it.”