For Jordan D. Schnitzer, the Portland businessman and art collector, the big idea behind a new exhibit of prints at Oregon State University is simple:
It gives people a chance to see the artwork. And the more people, the better.
"The art does not get worn out by too many eyes looking at it," Schnitzer said in an interview last week.
So, when Schnitzer told university officials that "I'd sure like to do some stuff at OSU," it didn't take long for Larry Rodgers, dean of OSU's College of Liberal Arts, to pitch an idea: Let's put together an on-campus exhibition featuring some of the more than 10,000 prints in the Schnitzer collection.
And Rodgers had a twist that Schnitzer found irresistible: In addition to using the Fairbanks Gallery in Fairbanks Hall, let's use OSU's new cultural centers to showcase art in the collection by modern American artists of color.
The resulting show, "Cultural Conversations," opens today at OSU and runs through May 3. An opening reception is set for Wednesday. (See the related stories for details about the reception, the venues where the art is being shown and the artists on view at each location.)
And, said Kirsi Peltomaki, an associate professor of art history at OSU who curated "Cultural Conversations," Schnitzer was serious about that offer to "pick out whatever you want."
Fortunately, Peltomaki had a general idea what she was looking for. In the Fairbanks Gallery, she wanted to showcase the work of a single artist, and she was thinking in terms of finding an important contemporary artist who might not be particularly well-known outside the art world.
John Baldessari, a California conceptual artist who works with text and photographic images, fit the bill perfectly, Peltomaki said, and she's particularly enthused that her art students and other community members will have a chance to come face-to-face with work that they might have seen previously only in books or in lectures: "This is work that benefits from being looked at" in a gallery setting, she said.
Peltomaki had a more specific goal in finding the artists to showcase in the OSU cultural centers, but she had an overarching theme in mind: She was looking for artwork that would help to trigger conversations about culture and identity.
She's confident she's found four excellent conversation starters in four American artists of color: Enrique Chagoya, a Mexican-born, American painter and printmaker; Joe Feddersen of Colville heritage, a Washington-based sculptor, painter, photographer and mixed-media artist; Mildred Howard, an African-American artist known for her sculptural installations and mixed-media pieces; and Hung Liu, a Chinese-born artist who was one of the first Chinese artists to establish a career in the West.
Rodgers said one benefit of the "Cultural Conversations" show is that it could get Corvallis residents and others to visit the new cultural centers on campus — and he's hoping that the exhibit attracts viewers from beyond campus as well.
“Cultural Conversations,” will be open to the public from April 3 through May 3 on the Corvallis campus. An opening reception will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. April 5 in Bexell Hall, 2251 SW Campus Way, Corvallis.