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Spring exhibits highlight Sac State’s impact on, connections to regional art world

Two art exhibits are on display in the University Library Gallery, each showcasing world-class art and highlighting Sac State’s contributions to the regional art community and beyond. Shown here, “She Laughs Back” showcases work from 19 woman artists, who used humor as a feminist strategy. (Sacramento State/Analy Carrillo)

The spring semester brings the opening of two new exhibits at the University Library Gallery, showcasing world-class art in the heart of campus and highlighting Sacramento State’s impact on the art world locally and beyond.

“She Laughs Back: Feminist Wit in 1970s Bay Area Art,” curated by retiring Art Professor Elaine O’Brien, includes the work of 19 woman artists, including Sac State faculty and alumni, who used humor as a feminist strategy.

“Teach Art,” curated by Sac State Art Galleries and Collections Curator Kelly Lindner, features the work of longtime Sac State professor and local art luminary Stephen Kaltenbach, highlighting how his teaching intersected with his artistry.

An artwork depicting a woman and depictions of how she and others see her.
This artwork by M. Louise Stanley, part of the "She Laughs Back" exhibit, was painted in water color on paper in 1970 and is titled "Woman: As She Sees Herself/As Others See Her." (Courtesy M. Louise Stanley)

Both exhibits opened Feb. 6. “She Laughs Back” will close April 14, and “Teach Art” will close May 18. The opening reception for both exhibits will be 5-8 p.m. Feb. 8. Elsewhere on campus, an exhibit of work from 28 Sac State alumni titled “Metamorphosis” runs in the Robert Else Gallery through Feb. 23.

O’Brien, who has taught at Sac State since the late 1990s, had been trying to put on “She Laughs Back” for several years before a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art finally allowed her to do so in her final semester as a professor.

A contemporary of the featured artists and an art historian, O’Brien said she understands why the artists deployed humor in their work, calling it an effective way to communicate serious ideas and challenge prejudices without resorting to anger.

“Wit – all kinds of humor – is another way to encourage critical thinking, questioning stereotypes and biases,” she said. “It's another way to encourage critical thinking, questioning.”

“She Laughs Back” features 95 paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media work from 19 regional artists. Through satire, puns, burlesque, and wit, the artworks were created in the 1970s to contest social hierarchies and advance women’s rights.

Shedding light on such movements, O’Brien said, is the purpose of her job as an art historian.

“Art historians, when we do our research and our writing, we are looking to do exactly that, bring into the historical record that which was left out,” she said.

If “She Laughs Back” is about an artistic movement that has flown under the radar, “Teach Art” is about a local legend who finally seems to be getting his due, Lindner said.

Kaltenbach, now in his 80s and living in Davis, came to Sac State in 1971, where his impact over more than 30 years was “huge,” Linder said. He saw teaching as part of his artistic practice, not separate from it, she said, and was one of the first professors at Sac State to incorporate performance art into the department.

"(In) both of the exhibitions, what I'm thinking about, in part, for students and art students is the longevity of having an artistic practice, because most of the women are still alive, and the same for Kaltenbach. They have never stopped making art." -- Kelly Lindner, Sac State Art Galleries and Collections curator  

Regionally, his most famous work is Portrait of My Father, which hangs in the Crocker Art Museum. On campus, he’s known for the giant Venus head sculptures that live in the Art Sculpture Lab. Kaltenbach is repainting one of the heads for display as part of the exhibition.

“Teach Art” will also include a re-creation of the installation The Window, first shown at the Robert Else Gallery in 1981. Lindner, however, offered few details of the installation, saying it must be experienced to be understood, a hint at the mysteriousness she said defined much of Kaltenbach’s work.

"There was a playfulness to his work as well as really trying to shed light on what does it mean to be an artist, and I think he imparted that to his students quite a bit,” Lindner said.

The pairing of the two exhibitions is largely circumstantial, but they do share common threads. Much of the work on display was created around the same time, Lindner said, and Kaltenbach’s art, like the women featured in “She Laughs Back,” also frequently contained an underlying humor.

The exhibitions, she said, also provide an opportunity to showcase work by faculty and alumni on the campus where they taught or learned, as well as to demonstrate to students that being an artist is something that can last a lifetime.

"(In) both of the exhibitions, what I'm thinking about, in part, for students and art students is the longevity of having an artistic practice, because most of the women are still alive, and the same for Kaltenbach,” she said. “They have never stopped making art."

Multiple “She Laughs Back” artists, including former Sac State Professor Joan Moment, will participate in an artists’ conversation from 3-4:30 p.m. Feb. 8 in the Hinde Auditorium, one of several public events connected to the exhibition.

On March 14, Kaltenbach will be on campus to discuss Portrait of My Father and other work with Crocker Art Museum Associate Curator Francesca Wilmott.

For more information about the exhibits, visit the University Galleries web page.

An art exhibit on display in the Robert Else Gallery.
In addition to "She Laughs Back" and "Teach Art," an exhibit of work by 28 Sac State alumni titled “Metamorphosis” is on display in the Robert Else Gallery through Feb. 23. (Sacramento State/Analy Carrillo)


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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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