February 8, 2024
The spring semester brings the opening of two new exhibitions in 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 Again: Feminist Wits in Bay Area Art of the 1970s,” curated by retired art professor Elaine O’Brien, features the work of 19 female 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 intersects with the art of his.
Both exhibitions opened on February 6. “She Laughs Back” will close on April 14th and “Teach Art” will close on May 18th. The opening reception for both exhibitions will be February 8, 17-20. Elsewhere on campus, an exhibit of work by 28 Sac State alumni titled “Metamorphosis” continues in the Robert Else Gallery through February 23.
O’Brien, who has taught at Sac State since the late 1990s, had been trying to bring “She Laughs Back” to life for several years before a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art finally allowed her to do so in her last semester as a professor.
A contemporary of the featured artists and an art historian, O’Brien said she understands why artists used humor in their work, calling it an effective way to communicate serious ideas and challenge prejudices without resorting to anger.
“Humour — all kinds of humor — is another way to encourage critical thinking, questioning stereotypes and prejudices,” she said. “It’s another way to encourage critical thinking, questioning.”
“She Laughs Back” features 95 paintings, sculptures and mixed media works by 19 regional artists. Through satire, puns, burlesque and wit, artworks were created in the 1970s to challenge social hierarchies and advance women’s rights.
Shedding light on such movements, O’Brien said, is the purpose of her work as an art historian.
“Art historians, when we do our research and writing, we are seeking to do just that, to bring into the historical record what 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 “enormous,” 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 exhibitions, what I’m thinking in part about students and art students is the longevity of having an art practice, because most of the women are still alive, and the same for Kaltenbach. she never stopped making art — Kelly Lindner, curator of Sac State Art Galleries and Collections
In the region, his most famous work is Portrait of My Father, which hangs in the Crocker Art Museum. On campus, he is known for the giant Venus head sculptures that live in the Art Sculpture Lab. Kaltenbach is repainting one of the heads to display as part of the exhibit.
“Teach Art” will also include a recreation of the installation Windowfirst 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 of 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 it means to be an artist, and I think he imparted that to his students a little bit,” Lindner said.
The pairing of the two exhibitions is largely circumstantial, but they share common themes. 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 often contained an underlying humor.
The exhibits, she said, also provide an opportunity to showcase the work of faculty and alumni on the campus where they taught or learned, as well as demonstrate to students that being an artist is something that can last a lifetime.
“(In) both exhibitions, what I’m thinking in part about 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. “They have never stopped making art.”
Multiple She Laughs Back artists, including former Sac State professor Joan Moment, will participate in an artist talk from 3-4:30 p.m. Feb. 8 in Hinde Auditorium, one of several public events related to the exhibition.
On March 14, Kaltenbach will be on campus to discuss Portrait of My Father and other work with Crocker Art Museum Curator Francesca Wilmott.
For more information about the exhibitions, visit the University Galleries website.