Inaugural Exhibition Features Work of Three Alumni

San Diego State’s new downtown San Diego art gallery opens April 9 in the historic Electra Building at the corner of Broadway and Kettner Boulevard.  Intended to serve as an exhibition space for contemporary art and design by artists from around the world, it debuts with an exhibition of three widely known contemporary artists who are all SDSU alumni.

The SDSU Downtown Gallery opens April 9.  Photo by Jim Brady
The SDSU Downtown Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Divergence: The Work of John Baldessari, Deborah Butterfield, and Andrea Zittel, will reflect the artists’ different styles and generations within conceptual art.  The works on display range from Baldessari’s famous text paintings to Butterfield’s horse sculptures made of found materials to Zittel’s modernist furniture installations.

“We thought it would be nice to feature their art partly because they’re three of the most highly respected contemporary artists who are working today,” says gallery curator Catherine Gleason, “and also because it makes a very nice connection between the Downtown Gallery and the university. “


The work 2010 Monty Award recipient Deborah Butterfield is part of the inaugural exhibit at the SDSU Downtown Gallery.
As for the artists, each says he or she took something away from southern California or, more specifically, from SDSU that continues to inform their work or perspectives.

Butterfield, a San Diego native who now lives in Montana, says she is pleased to be a part of the new gallery opening. “The idea that there’s a new contemporary gallery in San Diego is good news, so to be part of it is even nicer,” she observes.

A 2010 Monty Award recipient, Butterfield remembers a welding class she took at San Diego State that significantly enhanced her abilities.

“It’s a skill I still use today and it’s what made me feel unintimidated about making art,” she remembers. “I just felt like I could build whatever I had to build.  So that was really probably my most important class.”

Zittel (’88) is from Escondido.  In a magazine article, she described herself as “a total ‘product’ of the suburban southern California culture that I grew up in - critical of this ultra consumerist culture yet seduced by it.”

Andrea Zittel is one of three alumni artists whose work is featured in the inaugural exhibition at the SDSU Downtown Gallery.
Baldessari (’53, ’57), a 2009 winner of the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Venice Biennale, was born in National City and attended San Diego State in the 1950s.

“I had some great instructors, but what I mainly learned there was you really have to have practicing artists teaching art,” he says of his time on Montezuma Mesa. “I am convinced that after teaching many years you can’t teach art, but provide an ambiance where art can happen.”


Curator Gleason describes the new gallery as the perfect setting to exhibit the artists’ work.

John Baldessari ('53, '57) is one of three alumni artists whose work is featured in the inaugural exhibition at the SDSU Downtown Gallery.
“It’s a really beautiful space,” she says of the 2,000 square feet donated to the university by Bosa Development Corporation. “It has really tall ceilings and windows that face out onto Broadway.  It’s just a lovely space to show contemporary art.”

Gleason says while the new gallery will make San Diego State art more accessible to the community, it will also tie SDSU into the existing downtown art scene while providing greater opportunities for SDSU students.

“Students who are taking courses in exhibition design and in curatorial practices on campus will have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain from those classes into a real-life experience of actually working in the gallery,” she explains. “That’s a really wonderful connection between the educational programs on campus and the programs at the gallery.”

The Divergence exhibition will be on view at the Downtown Gallery through January 3, 2011.  In addition to exhibition programming, the gallery will also provide a venue for lectures, symposia and a host of interdisciplinary events to add to the exhibitions on view.