Within the first year after it opened in 1966, Sonoma State College — as it was called then — showed that it cared about art.
There were only two buildings on the 251-acre that included classrooms then, Darwin Hall and Stevenson Hall. The art department was housed in the Darwin Hall basement and art exhibits were presented in the lobby.
In 1978, Sonoma State University opened its own new University Art Gallery building, and since then, the venue has shown art not only by students and faculty, but also by local, regional and international artists.
To honor the gallery’s 40th anniversary this year, Michael Schwager, its director since 1991, decided to choose one piece each of current work by 40 artists out of the many who had shown their work there over the years.
You can see the results in the new exhibit, “40 by 40,” opening Nov. 8 and running through Dec. 9. And in case you didn’t know, admission at the campus gallery is free.
Schwager, the fifth director in the University Art Gallery’s history, estimates the venue has hosted some 60 exhibitions just during his 27-year tenure there, and probably a couple of hundred during its entire four decades. So he had plenty of artwork to choose from.
“It was a challenge,” Schwager said. “I went through our complete list of every show we’ve done and chose names, and tried to spread them across the decades. I couldn’t really do one artist per year. That wasn’t the point. I was interested in making the point that are local heroes, and then broaden it to show that we have managed to bring in the work of some pretty significant artists who live elsewhere.”
The display will include work by some of the Northern California’s best-known artists, including former Sonoma State University gallery director and art teacher Bob Nugent and sculptor and painter Robert Hudson of Cotati, as well as the late painter Bill Morehouse and the late sculptor Wally Hedrick.
The show also features Japanese-born and Los Angeles-based sculptor and sound artist Mineko Grimmer, and Mexico City-born painter Enrique Chagoya, who went on to become an art professor at Stanford University.
Since the University Art Gallery is on a college campus, some people might assume that it shows only artwork by students and faculty,.
“That misperception continues, but that’s OK, because every spring we do two student shows, the all-student show and the Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates’ show. And then every other year, we show faculty work,” Schwager said.
“I think that the notion of showing work from our own community is central to the gallery’s mission, but to my mind, it is just as important to bring in work that the students and the people in the community may not have access to,” he added. “Not everyone can get to San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York, so part of my responsibility is to bring in important, serious artists from wherever I find them. Whether they’re well-known or not is kind of irrelevant.”
While the gallery is open to the entire community, it also serves as an important resource for the university’s teachers and students.
Four decades of fine art
What: “40 by 40: 40th Anniversary Exhibition”
When: Nov. 8 through Dec. 9. Opening reception: 4-7 p.m. Nov. 8. Hours: 11 a.m.- 4p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: University Art Gallery, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park.
Information: 707-664-2295, sonoma.edu/artgallery