California State University, Long Beach
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Hidden, But Well Worth Finding

Published: August 3, 2015

Karen Kleinfelder outside the galleries.

Nestled between Fine Arts’ buildings 2 and 3, tucked away off a little breezeway, is a hidden gem. Actually, there’s five hidden gems.

“I think there’s a lot of students who don’t even know we’re here,” Karen Kleinfelder said of the student art galleries. “They don’t know we’re tucked back there and that every week the shows change.”

Kleinfelder is a long-time faculty member who was recently named director of CSULB’s School of Art. Overseeing 45 full-time faculty, 110 adjunct lecturers and more than 1,700 students, she sees the galleries as a key component of their education.

“This is a huge teaching tool,” she said. “There is nothing like being able to show your art. It’s unbelievable how important it is to have these galleries. It’s immense. It’s incalculable. Art isn’t made just to live in a studio and have other artists see it. It’s meant to have an audience.”

Too that end, visitors frequenting the galleries are rewarded every single week with rotating art exhibits.

Each graduate student is required to do a solo show as part of their MFA exhibit and by that time has most likely put in two solid years of work to get to the point.

BFA students also have an opportunity to exhibit their work in the galleries throughout the year, generally as part of group showings in areas such as photography and sculpture.

According to Kleinfelder, there’s much more to preparing an exhibit than an artist just placing work on a table or hanging it on the wall.

“There’s so many lessons about how to hang a show and how to be professional about it,” she said. “The galleries are amazing learning tools and it’s wonderful to watch how our students are a real community. They help each other, they learn from each other, they bond in a special way and then their work gets seen.”

“Being able to use the galleries on campus has been very beneficial,” said Nora Ayala, an MFA student from Riverside, whose printmaking work is scheduled to be on exhibit Oct. 4-8. “It has given me opportunities to exhibit and share my work with my peers, family member, friends and the local community. I have been able to expand my CV, have gained experience on how to hang and install work in a gallery setting, and it has given me the opportunity to curate for group shows. I’m very grateful that our university has several galleries that frequently alternate exhibitions where students can present and share their work with the greater community and gain professional experience within a gallery setting.”

One of the more productive aspects of an exhibit, and it’s critical to any artist’s growth, is feedback from fellow students, faculty and gallery visitors.

“Our artists sit at their shows and talk to people and get feedback,” said Kleinfelder. “That interaction is invaluable to the students. Until that artwork gets seen, until it goes out into the world and lives, it doesn’t begin to have the meaning the artist wants for it, so they learn tremendously from that experience. It’s the kind of thing you can’t learn from a lecture.”

The galleries, which provide such opportunities for students, faculty and alumni that may not otherwise exist, where named after benefactors Marilyn Werby, Dennis W. Dutzi, Max L. Gatov (West and East) and Dr. Maxine Merlino—each of whom had their own unique relationship with the art school.

“Their contributions cannot be measured. For students to have a place to think about how to situate and show their work is important on many levels,” said Kleinfelder, noting that Instructionally Related Activities (IRA) funding helps support exhibitions. “Their work appears a certain way in a studio, but when they put it in a gallery they have to think about lighting and what it’s going to sit next to. I see it in the studio and then I see it in the gallery and it’s just a revelation. So they need to see that. Art works are very sensitive to their surroundings.”

“I’ve always said there’s no more rigorous or active gallery program in the country,” said Jay Kvapil, former director for CSULB’s School of Art, who is now the Dean for the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication at Cal State Northridge. “There’s not a school that has five galleries for students, let alone the additional satellite galleries.”

Towards the end of every fall semester, ceramics, fiber and printmaking take over the galleries for the popular annual holiday sale, which this year is scheduled for Dec. 6-10. Proceeds from that event helps fund scholarships.

So, does anything surprise Kleinfelder after all these years?

“Oh yeah,” she said. “The Gatov has two movable walls and I have seen them in every possible configuration, but I’ll walk in there and I’ll see the space in a way I have never seen it before. Students just transform it. That’s one thing art can to, it can heighten your perception about the space, about life.”

Students are also encouraged to get into Los Angeles and Orange counties and take advantage of everything they have to offer as a way to open up their minds.

“It’s particularly important in art, where creative thinking is survival in the 21st Century,” said Kleinfelder. “Art is not that easy to just slot and classify these days. We’ve discovered artists crossing so many boundaries. We’ve had so many hybrid things and you’ll look at the work and wonder if it’s done by a fiber student or a sculpture student or a ceramic student because they mix it up.”

Gallery exhibits open Sunday and run through the following Thursday. Hours are 5-7 p.m. on Sunday and 12-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and 12-7 p.m. on Wednesday. The fall schedule begins Sunday, Aug. 30, with the student-run Greater Los Angeles Master of Fine Arts Exhibition filling all five galleries and featuring students from throughout Los Angeles.