May 24 2016 04:27 PM

Students, faculty in shock over plan to shutter 50-year-old campus gallery

Dispossessed: A Call for Prayer and Protest inside the University Art Gallery
All photos by Seth Combs unless otherwise noted

Collective Magpie would have preferred to be together on the night of Dossier Thalamus, an exhibition showcasing works from UC San Diego's graduating visual arts MFA candidates. Tae Hwang and MR Barnadas have the distinction of being the first pair to complete UCSD's MFA program and will graduate as a collective rather than individuals. So it would make sense that after two years of hard work, they would be together to showcase some of the results of their time in La Jolla.

Instead, Barnadas sat alone on a foldout chair during the Dossier Thalamus opening on Thursday night (the show is up through June 3). Held on the second floor of the downtown Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the show had been moved to MCASD only a week before, when students and faculty were informed that the original location, UCSD's University Art Gallery (UAG), was to be closed permanently.

The decision to close the gallery came down on Friday, May 13, and the news quickly spread around campus. Sitting in her chair, Barnadas said she and Hwang had planned to show their own work, but on this night Barnadas simply sat under a large photograph of the UAG, with leaflets about the gallery's closing.

At press time, the UAG was scheduled to close for good on June 2.

"The UAG has served the campus community since 1966 and we want to make sure it doesn't go out with a whisper," Barnadas said. "This is a time for artists to do what they do. This is important. We want people to know that pressure from the outside can affect change on the inside."

In La Jolla, Magpie's other half, Hwang, was doing her part to bring attention to the closure by ostensibly occupying the space and calling it Dispossessed: A Call for Prayer and Protest. A large red "X" covers the entrance doors, similar to ones seen on houses scheduled for destruction. Next to the doors, a giant banner was hung with the announcement of the gallery's closure. Inside, Hwang, members of the UCSD faculty and students took turns slicing old papers and scantrons and then using a custom made stamp to emblazon each with the words "University Art Gallery UCSD SEPT 10 1966 - JUNE 2 2016." The papers are being used to contract a large, draping piece of art, which is strung and hung from the ceiling. Hwang hopes the piece, the banner and the "calls for action" they're planning (which includes a protest on Thursday, May 26, from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m.) will garner attention.

"I feel like the work we're doing here is really just a platform," said Hwang, who hopes people will sign up to make "small gestures" inside the gallery. "It's really been bringing in the community here and not just art students, but because of the banner, there's people stopping by and asking, 'Is this for real? Is this really happening?' Some of them may have never have here before, but they're genuinely concerned with the loss of culture."

In a statement sent to CityBeat on Friday afternoon, and subsequently made public, Dean of Arts & Humanities Cristina Della Coletta (via UCSD's Communications and Public Affairs department) confirmed the closure of the UAG, while also confirming what will become of it.

"Although new classrooms are planned to come online over the next few years, the immediate need means we must repurpose existing space," the statement read. It also noted the school will add more than 1,300 students in the 2016-2017 year. "The gallery space is among those sites that will serve UC San Diego students as classrooms in the near term."

"There was a group of people in there with clipboards, pencils and measuring tapes, and it was clear that they were sizing up the space right in the middle of an event," UCSD Visual Arts Vice-Chair and Professor Amy Adler said, referring to Meeting at Square One, an undergraduate art showcase that was held at UAG on May 5. Given that it was the first show at UAG since temporarily closing last year, many of the students and faculty initially took it as a sign the gallery would remain open. Adler said Visual Arts Chair Jack M. Greenstein also had tentative plans for a 50th anniversary exhibition in the fall.

"There was always a sense of hope that we would be able to reactivate it," Adler said.

Back at Dispossessed, Professor Rubén Ortiz-Torres was hopeful something might come out of the protests, art and actions planned for Dispossessed.

"The humanities is becoming a disposable thing at universities," Ortiz-Torres said. "We tried to negotiate with them to keep it open, but whatever we might have to say, I don't think that will have as much value as when the community and the students fight for the space."

Update: On June 2, the day the gallery was set to close permanently, the office of the Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and the office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities released a joint statement to staff, students and faculty announcing that they had "removed the UAG from consideration for redevelopment at this time." They also added that they "remain open to considering a viable proposal for the revitalization of the UAG." The full statement can be read here, but the language used seems to indicate that while the UAG will not be repurposed for classrooms next year, it could be in the future once alternative or replacement spaces are found. Stay tuned.

UCSD’s University Art Gallery
Photo by Yi Mao, courtesy of Collective Magpie

MR Barnadas at the Dossier Thalamus exhibition
Photo by Erika Ostrander

Dossier Thalamus at MCASD

The sign pointing the way to the University Art Gallery

Dispossessed: A Call for Prayer and Protest inside the University Art Gallery

A poster at UAG counts down the days until its closure

Papers stamped with opening and closing dates of the UAG

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