Out Our Way

Drawn from the collections of major museums and private collections nationwide, as well as UC Davis’ permanent collection, Out Our Way presents 240 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints which are characteristic of the instinctive embrace of the vernacular and the desire to ingeniously transform the stuff of daily life.

This inaugural exhibition explores the development of the revolutionary UC Davis Department of Art, founded in 1958. The exhibition revives the “spirit of defiant provincialism” which, in merely 10 years, propelled our Department to be recognized as one of the most courageous and wildly inventive communities of artists working in the world. 

Founding Chair Richard L. Nelson built his department as a “team of rivals,” intentionally bringing together artists with differing opinions about aesthetics and teaching philosophy, while all shared an exceptional grasp of the properties of their materials. In this creative community, relentless experimentation prevailed. 

This First Generation comprises individuals both internationally recognized and recently re-discovered. Out Our Way reassembles lost histories and sheds new light on some of UC Davis’ most cherished lore.

“Nearly 60 years ago, Richard L. Nelson, the founding chair of the UC Davis art department, allowed — no, even encouraged — the artist teachers he hired to challenge and push one another,” said Teagle, who is co-curator of the exhibition with guest curator Jessica Hough. “These artists were incredibly different from each other, artistically and philosophically. Today, some are internationally recognized, others recently rediscovered. But each was an essential ingredient to the intellectual cross-pollination that nurtured this creative community.”

Represented in Out Our Way are the 12 artists Nelson hired during his tenure (1952-70): Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, William T. Wiley, Roy De Forest, Roland Petersen, Manuel Neri, Ralph Johnson, Ruth Horsting, Daniel Shapiro, Tio Giambruni, Jane Garritson and John Baxter.

The exhibition visitor will first encounter a signature work by each artist in Out Our Way, providing a starting point from which to explore the pivotal moment each artist experienced at UC Davis.

A prime example of how profound change can well up quickly within an artist is Cup of Coffee (1961) by Thiebaud. Already present are hallmarks of his mature style — the use of shadow and color coming together in the outline of objects — and the kind of formal investigation that consistently set him apart from the Pop artists.

Other exhibition highlights include Petersen’s Picnic series, (ca. 1965); Arneson’s Herinal (no date), representative of his important body of toilets and urinals made from 1962 to 1964; seminal works like Neri’s Ceramic Loop IV (ca. 1961-65), a ceramic sculpture featured in the UC Berkeley Art Museum’s Funk exhibition (1967); and brash experiments that strike one today as prescient. Period photographs, printed materials and film clips provide context for these works of art, created in an art world very different from the networked one of today.

Out Our Way proposes that the tight community formed by these artists in the 1960s was a generator of creativity. Underlining this premise is the surprising number of featured artworks that were exchanged among artists.

This exhibition was on view November 13, 2016 – March 26, 2017.