Since it was established in 1962 by photographer and conceptual artist Robert Heinecken, the photography department at UCLA’s art school has been one of the most influential in the nation, graduating well-known figures such as Carmen Winant and Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
Now, the university is building on that legacy.
UCLA is expected to announce Monday that its first endowed chair in the art department will be a photographer: Catherine Opie, the Los Angeles artist whose sumptuous images have long investigated sexual and gender identity, as well as identifiable aspects of the Southern California landscape, and who has been a member of the art faculty at UCLA since 2001.
The endowment comes courtesy of a $2-million donation from Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owners of the Wonderful Co. and prominent arts patrons. (Among the buildings that bear their name is the Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)
“This allows my area to grow,” Opie said. “The Resnicks have been really generous, not only to the university as a whole — but I’ve really appreciated what they’ve done for the department.”
In addition to the $2 million that will endow Opie’s position, the Resnicks have committed $500,000 to upgrade the undergraduate photography lab.
“Things have really shifted in photography,” Opie said. “We don’t need a color processor. Everyone is printing on Epson. So I’m redesigning the darkroom to bring it back to silver gelatin, black-and-white printing.”
The gift also will fund visiting guest lecturers and health insurance for adjunct professors who are carrying full teaching loads.
“I’m very aware of the younger generation of teachers who need to be supported in a more meaningful way,” Opie said.
It’s been a period of growth for the art department at UCLA, which is chaired by artist and teacher Andrea Fraser and features among its faculty important Los Angeles artists such as painter Lari Pittman and conceptual artists such as Barbara Kruger and Rodney McMillian.
In September, the university opened the doors on revamped graduate art studios in Culver City, funded by longtime L.A. gallerist Margo Leavin and designed by award-winning Los Angeles architectural firm Johnston Marklee. On Wednesday evening, the department will host the first-ever open studios at the building.
Opie is hopeful that this first endowed chair will lead to others — and that this might also generate critical donations for scholarships.
“My dream is that UCLA in the art department is 100% tuition-supported at some point,” she said. “The more we grow the relationship to creativity by supporting our students educationally and financially — those are my goals for the department.”
Where: 3600 Hayden Ave., Culver City
When: Dec. 11, 7 - 10 p.m.