Curator Shelby Graham watches as gallery manager Leah Hanson prepares to arrange a Picasso illustration on mat board. Volunteer Carly McGaugh said, “I never really thought about how things are packaged and transported.” The careful creation of an exhibit is itself a learning experience for students. Photo by Prescott Watson.

Four decades, endless boundaries of creative expression. The Sesnon Gallery at UC Santa Cruz celebrates its 40th anniversary this month with an art exhibition, Time Lapse. To commemorate the event, the gallery will exhibit its vast collection of art pieces to the students of UCSC. The show began April 5 and runs through May 7, showcasing a range of artists from Ansel Adams to Jack Zajac. Decades of art are celebrated as the gallery takes its viewers through years of its selection.

The operation of Porter College’s Sesnon Gallery is a joint effort between volunteer students and Shelby Graham, the curator and director of the gallery. Because it is an anniversary show, the selection for this exhibition is compiled from a list of artists who are familiar to the gallery, and the pieces are never-before-seen.

Graham spoke about the careful selection and curation process.

“I like it when artworks have a dialogue with each work, and it’s because they are curated together. Together they tell a story,” she said. “Anytime you curate a show, it’s a new composition. Works have a dialogue with each other when they’re in a gallery. And that’s the beauty of a curated exhibition.”

Designed in chronological order, the pieces range from the 1970s curated works of the gallery’s first director, Philip Brookman, to the present. With the rapid advancement of technology in the past four decades, the Sesnon has evolved as well.

“The biggest changes have been theoretical, with the spark of postmodern thinking blowing apart the tenets of modernism that we were taught to embrace in the early 1970s,” Brookman said in an email. “And the shifting importance of the photographic, technological image — along with the exponential growth of digital media — has introduced entirely new definitions of art.”

While art majors are more familiar with the Sesnon Gallery and its exhibitions than other students are, Graham emphasized that the gallery invites students of all majors to stop and reflect for a minute.

“A goal of any art gallery or museum is to interrupt your day and remind you to either reflect, take a break, analyze or shift your thinking, because art can do that for you,” Graham said. “It might make you appreciate something, to understand something to a different level, or just reflect on who you are.”

The gallery challenges definitions and meanings of art as it displays a range of pieces, from conceptual work all the way to paintings done by elephants.

“We can learn from history. Just because there’s new technology out there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road,” Graham said. “Art can really push your boundaries and make you figure out what your stereotypes are, or your judgment when you define ‘What is art?’”

Like many campus resources, the gallery has not been immune to UC budget cuts. Losing internship and work-study programs posed a challenge in curating the event.

“Budget cuts happened, and then I made it as best as I could,” Graham said. “So that’s where I felt like I could have done a lot more, but I did the perfect amount considering the space and time and budget that we had.”

While the curation of the gallery now depends on student volunteers due to budget cuts, Graham has used the situation as a learning experience for students interested in curation.

“I never really thought about how things are packaged and transported. There’s a lot of bubble wrap, lots of tape,” said fourth-year volunteer Carly McGaugh. “I think [the gallery] helps students to be more aware of art.”

Brookman stressed the importance of the Sesnon Gallery in the Santa Cruz community.

“It’s so connected to the fabric of the university, and the Sesnon Gallery is one of the only places in Santa Cruz that students can have a firsthand experience with exceptional works of art,” said Brookman, who is not only the first director of the gallery but also a UCSC alumnus. “That’s so important in learning about how to experience art and art history.”


The exhibit will be on display until Saturday, May 7. Directions to Sesnon Gallery are posted on UCSC’s online campus map.