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October 4. 2004

Students collaborate with Museum of Art and History to create innovative ‘Big and Bold’ gallery exhibit

By Scott Rappaport

The Big and Bold exhibit now on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is a prime example of the benefit derived from combining university research with an important cultural institution in the community.

History of art and visual culture professor Catherine Soussloff with the exhibit her class helped create. Photo by Scott Rappaport

The gallery exhibit features an array of large and oversize graphic art from premier American artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Helen Frankenthaler. Of all the works displayed, only one is less than six feet long in at least one dimension, and nearly half are 10 feet long or more. Consisting of prints from the Anderson Collection and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the exhibition offers significant examples of artwork that has defied technical and artistic assumptions about the nature of print media.

The Big and Bold exhibition was arranged in conjunction with an advanced undergraduate seminar taught by UCSC art history professor Catherine M. Soussloff. Working closely with the museum, 12 students from her History and Visual Culture 190M class researched large-scale prints by prominent American artists from 1970 to the present. They held collaborative discussions, interviewed living artists, and visited the presses that produced the prints—in addition to conducting extensive archival, library, and web-based investigations. Based on this research, the students then produced original wall label descriptions and interpretations for each of the prints displayed to help educate the public about the exhibition.

Catherine Soussloff with another work in the exhibit Photo by Scott Rappaport

“It was a highly innovative project,” noted Soussloff, who has taught at UCSC for the past 17 years. “It is really the first time the university has done this kind of a collaboration—it’s very unusual for students to work directly with such well-known artists at a museum.” The idea for the collaboration came from Kathleen Moodie, curator at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

“We’ve never had students writing labels and wall panels before,” said Moodie. “But I was inspired by a project at Stanford University’s Cantor Center for the Arts. At Stanford, the students gave information to the curators, who went on to actually write the text themselves. This time, I thought we’d take a chance and have the UCSC students write it instead.”

Soussloff noted that the collaborative process gave her seminar an edge of excitement because the stakes were much higher for the students than simply handing in a research paper. She added that next to each print at the exhibition resides a large photo and a brief biography (often amusing) of the UCSC student who researched that particular work.

“We had this great camaraderie in the class,” Soussloff observed. “In my teaching experience, it certainly stood out as one of the best seminars I’ve ever taught.”

Barrie Lockitch, a 21-year-old student in the seminar who did research on the Lichtenstein print, was equally enthusiastic about the experience.

“The student insight and the freshness of ideas—guided by Professor Soussloff, an expert in the field—should be interesting to people who are trying to gain knowledge of what students are learning about at the campus,” said Lockitch. “It reinforces the positive ties between students and the community.”

Big and Bold: American Graphic Art from the Anderson Collection and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco runs through November 28 at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz. For more information, visit the museum web site at: www.santacruzmah.org.


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