Photos by Asia Morris.
The University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) opened three exhibitions in late January featuring Jessica Rath: A Better Nectar, a multi sensory installation that invites viewers to step into the ethereal world of a bumblebee's life, Consumed, a group exhibition organized by CSULB School of Art Museum and Curatorial Studies graduate students and MOCA 8, the UAM's first edition prints of the famed portfolio, "Eight by Eight to Celebrate The Temporary Contemporary" on view in the new, modern, 2900 sq. foot Permanent Collection Gallery.
Perhaps it's the new plaza, designed by Fred Fisher and Partners, exposing the UAM's previously hidden glass entrance and creating an open space for passersby to spend time, not just enter the museum, or maybe it's the new Permanent Collection Gallery, extending into the east wing of the Steve and Nini Horn Center, enabling the UAM to at last showcase MOCA 8, whose works have been sitting unseen in a law firm for 15 years, but it seems as if the UAM has taken one giant leap forward in becoming a much more well-known institution, with the ability now to showcase its permanent collection alongside incoming contemporary exhibitions, not just for its students, but for all of Long Beach and Los Angeles county.
Shefali Mistry, Public Relations and Marketing at UAM, said that she had met fifth-year students who had never known the University even had a museum.
"Nobody knew that we were here," she lamented. "We've been here for 20 years[...] We just wanted to make a place where people could gather and hang out, where people could study and where people knew that there is a museum on campus."
MOCA 8, housed in the new Permanent Collection Gallery, is an impressive smattering of works by Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, Sam Francis, Ellsworth Kelly, Niki de Saint Phalle, Robert Rauschenberg Jean Tinguely and Andy Warhol from the Gordon F. Hampton Collection, gifted to the museum in 1999 by his three children. Hampton was a former trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art and a founding partner of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP, the firm that has taken care of the collection for the UAM for over 15 years.
Mistry explained, "[Hampton] used to love collecting first editions of things. He was on the MOCA board. So when MOCA was first starting out, eight artists created works to raise money for the new institution and those portfolios were sold, I think at the time, for 10,000 dollars and he has the first editions, so that's this," she pointed to the pieces lining the walls.
"Opening with MOCA 8 was a conscious decision not only to pay tribute to Mr. Hampton, but also to underline an interesting parallel: the artwork was originally published as a benefit to raise funds for the "Temporary Contemporary" (now the Geffen Contemporary), a not-so-traditional space for exhibiting contemporary art, a converted warehouse," said Maria Coltharp, UAM Registrar and Curator of the Permanent Collection, in a statement.
"Our new permanent collection gallery is a also a not-so-traditional space," she continued, "a converted piece of the Horn Center, shared and open not only to museum visitors by also passers-by. It was the right exhibition with which to start this exciting new chapter."
Jessica Rath: A Better Nectar, curated by UAM Curator of Exhibitions, Kristina Newhouse, currently housed in three of the museum's main galleries, uses sculpture, light and sound to bring viewers into a world that a bumblebee might inhabit. And sure, it's a well-researched artist's interpretation of their foraging and pollinating habits, but when confronted with Rath's "Bee Purple," that dips the viewer into the pulsating "ultraviolet" light a bee might see when journeying from nest to flower, you can't help but feel connected to the compelling creatures.
"Resonant Nest," the exhibit's highlight and arguably the artist's most profound addition to the show, is an acoustic sculpture that responds to the current weather, season and time in an effort to mimic a bumblebee's behavior. Scores entitled, "Languid Wander," "Afternoon Forage," "Early Sunset," and "Quiet Sleep," are set to play, for example, when a bumblebee starts foraging early in the morning or in the late afternoon when they return to their underground nests.
Designed in collaboration with Ian Schneller of Specimen Products, each pale yellow cluster of shell-like shapes emanates from within the sound of a 40-person master choir. The result is an electrifying, humbling experience; to imagine yourself as part of such a harmonious, survival-driven formation.
The scores were created by Los Angeles-based composer Robert Hoehn and performed by the nationally renowned CSULB Bob Cole Conservatory of Music Chamber Choir, directed by Dr. Jonathan Talberg. Rath considered using instruments for the score, but found that the human voice interpretation better mimicked the collective nature of the bees' tireless work.
"It needs to be a collective, like a bee," she explained emphatically. "I need to weep, I need to feel that power of that many voices and how strong and transformative that many voices together feels[...] I need to have that kind of resonance in which your body relates to the object."
The artworks in Consumed, curated by students Brittany Binder, Sinéad Finnerty-Pyne and Amy Kaeser, uphold the position that consumerism is one of the major causes of environmental crisis. Consumed draws a parallel between the environmental issues addressed in A Better Nectar, which confronts those interested with just how integral the dwindling bumblebee population is to our consumption of food.
Six artists have taken everyday objects and twisted them into different forms, drawing the viewer into a moral dilemma of how objects we rarely think twice about before tossing away may actually lead to our species’ and planet’s eventual demise. What seem like gorgeous, abstract paintings that immediately engage the viewer with their colors and intricacies, are actually Jedediah Caesar's cross sections cut from resin sculptures containing collected refuse. You’re surprised that what you’re staring so wantingly at is actually beautified trash.
The three exhibitions are on view until Sunday, April 12. For more information about the UAM or the current exhibitions click here and for updates on current events, including the panel discussion "Umwelt: Human Eavesdropping into a Bee’s World" on March 26, visit the UAM’s Facebook page here.