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Making a Name for Themselves : 2-Location Exhibition Shows the Diversity of CSUN's Art Graduates

February 19, 1988|PAMELA MORELAND | Times Staff Writer

How do alumni from the arts program at California State University, Northridge let the world know about them and the school they graduated from?

They have an art show.

Actually, two shows make up "CSUN Continuum," an exhibition that runs to Feb. 27 at galleries in Studio City and Los Angeles. The exhibition features the work of 14 CSUN graduates, some of whom local art critics say are among the hottest young artists on the Los Angeles scene.

The purpose of "Continuum," according to curator Amy Gantman, is to show the diversity of the art produced by CSUN alumni.

"I'm really proud of that school and the art program there," said Gantman. "I think people should know who's coming out of Northridge and what kind of work they're doing."

"Continuum" in Studio City can be found at the Ventura Boulevard branch of The Art Store, which is owned by Standard Brands Paint Co. and sells artists' supplies. In that gallery are the works of seven recent CSUN graduates. Most of the pieces are abstract, three-dimensional wall hangings.

"There is a heavy emphasis on surface quality, a heavy emphasis on the formal aspects of art making," said Marvin Harden, a member of the CSUN art department faculty who has worked with most of the young artists.

At the Beverly Boulevard branch of The Art Store, which is near La Brea Avenue, the gallery features works of seven CSUN alumni who graduated in the 1970s. This part of the exhibition features more representational and figurative art.

"There is more social commentary, more humor in this work," Harden said.

Gantman said she came up with the idea for the "Continuum" when she was working for the private curatorial firm Corporate Art Consultants.

"This was an opportunity to show people the viability of the Northridge program and its grads," said Gantman, a CSUN graduate who is designing art curriculum for the Learning Tree University in Chatsworth.

"We hope this is the first of a series of shows. We want to develop a name for Northridge," added Michelle Isenberg, owner of Los Angeles-based Corporate Art Consultants and another Northridge graduate.

For years, the CSUN School of the Arts has been overshadowed by the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and the Otis/Parsons Art Institute in Los Angeles. With such graduates as painters Charles White and David Salle and muralist Kent Twitchell, Otis and CalArts have dominated the local art school scene.

Meanwhile, the most anyone could say about the CSUN art department was that one of its former professors was Hans Burkhardt, an internationally recognized Expressionist artist who studied with Arshile Gorky. Few could name a CSUN graduate who left a mark on the contemporary art market.

"Los Angeles thought that the Valley was the backwater," said Art Weiss, chairman of the CSUN Two-Dimensional Media Department.

But art community attitudes about CSUN and its programs are changing. Part of the change comes from the number of alumni who are becoming critical and commercial successes in the crowded contemporary art market.

For example, painter Jeffery Vallance's recent show at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery in Los Angeles received national attention. Photographer Jon Swihart is about to have a one-man show at the Tortue Gallery in Santa Monica. Michael C. McMillen's mixed-media paintings are being sold by Fifth Avenue gallery in New York City, and abstract sculptor Lynn Aldrich has just signed with Krygier/Landau Gallery of Los Angeles.

"It's time to recognize the fact that there are people who went to Northridge who are producing good art," said Ann Goldstein, an emerging-artist specialist for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

The alumni credit their success--and the success of the CSUN art program--to a change within the department that placed an emphasis on having faculty members who are practicing artists in addition to being educators. Once, working artists on the CSUN faculty were a rarity. Today, many of the 27 instructors in the painting and sculpture departments are nationally recognized artists represented by galleries in Los Angeles and New York.

"Having practicing artists as teachers makes the person in front of the class more than a lecturer," said sculptor Aldrich. "He or she becomes a role model. You can start to visualize yourself doing the same thing they are doing. You start to say to yourself, 'Yeah, if they can do it, I can do it.' "

Among those teaching in the CSUN sculpture department is Robert Bassler, who has an upcoming one-man show at the Wenger Gallery in Los Angeles. Also teaching sculpture is William Davis, whose work is sold by galleries in California, New York and Massachusetts.

Instructors in the Two-Dimensional Media Department, which encompasses the disciplines of painting, photography, design and printmaking, include Donal Lambert, a featured artist with the Ovsey Gallery in Los Angeles, and Walter Gabrielson, who is associated with the Karl Borenstein Gallery in Santa Monica.

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