Treasures are drawn to academic sanctuaries

Times Staff Writer

As students rush to classes at USC, an outdoor artwork near Fisher Gallery invites them to slow down and think about a shameful chapter of U.S. history.

Created by Jenny Holzer in 1999 and simply titled “Blacklist,” the landscaped retreat recalls the period in the late 1940s and early ‘50s when the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed citizens suspected of being communist sympathizers to testify about their political beliefs. Quotations about freedom of expression from some of those witnesses are engraved on stone benches and walkways in Holzer’s work.

On two college campuses in Claremont, historic murals enrich the environment. Frary Hall at Pomona College is home to Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco’s vividly colored “Prometheus,” painted in 1930, and American artist Rico Lebrun’s black and white “Genesis,” executed 30 years later. At nearby Scripps College, the breathtakingly beautiful Margaret Fowler Garden is the site of “The Flower Vendors” mural, left unfinished when the artist, Alfredo Ramos Martinez, died in 1946.

At UCLA, UC San Diego and Cal State Long Beach, meanwhile, modern and contemporary sculpture is part of the landscape.

UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, launched with 11 works in 1967, has a collection of about 70 figurative and abstract pieces by such noted artists as Henri Matisse, Jacques Lipchitz and Isamu Noguchi.

A partnership between UC San Diego and the privately funded Stuart Collection, forged in 1982, has commissioned major works by 16 contemporary artists for locations throughout the university’s sprawling campus.

Cal State Long Beach started its collection in 1965 with an international sculpture symposium and the installation of 10 outdoor works. Since then, the collection has doubled in size, including works by Robert Irwin and Bryan Hunt.

At Stanford University, where the Cantor Art Center has amassed the largest collection of bronzes by French sculptor Auguste Rodin outside Paris, 20 works are in a sculpture garden, and another, “The Burghers of Calais,” is nearby.

Highly visible but often taken for granted, outdoor works are the most public face of college and university art collections in California. Other pieces can be seen in campus museums and special exhibitions, but they merely hint at what’s in storage.

The Berkeley Art Museum, founded in 1963 with a gift of 45 paintings and $250,000 from Abstract Expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hofmann, has massed a 13,000-piece collection of Asian, American and European art.

Pomona’s stash of artworks and artifacts includes more than 5,000 examples of American Indian ceramics, basketry and beadwork.

Scripps has about 900 pieces of contemporary ceramics donated by Fred Marer, a Los Angeles City College math professor who followed the evolution of clay as art with a modest budget and a keen eye.

The University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1998 with a gift from the Gordon F. Hampton collection of 85 contemporary works by 42 artists, including Al Held, Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner and Milton Resnick.

Few colleges and universities have funds to acquire art, but their collections grow with donations from alumni and others who hope the objects will be used for art history research and teaching. And faculty members do what they can to attract valuable resources to their schools. Paul Soldner, an internationally renowned ceramist and teacher at Scripps, is credited with snagging the Marer collection.

Many college and university art collections are highly eclectic, reflecting donor taste rather than institutional vision, but they constitute a significant cultural resource that has developed over many decades.

USC founded Fisher Gallery in 1939, earning the right to brag about creating the first museum in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to the exhibition and collection of fine art. At the time, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was in its formative stage at a multipurpose museum in Exposition Park.

When “Blacklist” was installed, it joined an eclectic collection that includes 19th century American landscapes, 18th century British portraits, 16th through 19th century European paintings and a broad assortment of 20th century art.

UCLA’s Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts is something of an old-timer too. Established on campus in 1956, it was moved to the university-operated Hammer Museum in Westwood. After 50 years, the Grunwald has compiled 45,000 European, American and Japanese prints, along with photographs, drawings and artist-made books.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA was founded in 1963, but its collection is rooted in a 1965 gift of 30,000 African and Oceanic objects from the trust of Henry Wellcome, an American-born entrepreneur who built a pharmaceuticals empire in Britain and collected vast quantities of material on the history of medicine as well as ethnic art.

Over 40 years, the Wellcome donation has expanded to a collection of more than 150,000 art and ethnographic works and 600,000 archeological objects. With textiles tracing the history of cloth, pre-Columbian ceramics from Peru, papier-mache sculptures from Mexico, beaded art from Nigeria and silver from Europe and the United States, the collection is chock-full of little known, seldom seen treasures.

And that’s not all. Tucked away in the basement of the museum building is the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. It has compiled an archive of rock art encompassing 300,000 images and 6,000 unpublished documents about petroglyphs, pictographs and other man-made markings on stone.