University Art Museum: Internationally Known, Locally Obscure

  • 08/15/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Andrea Serna

When Chris Scoates arrived in Long Beach there was an expectation that he would create an innovative environment at the Cal State Long Beach campus museum. He has not been disappointed.

As the second director of the University Art Museum, he has built a firm reputation as a published author and curator of exhibitions in a wide variety of genres.

Since 2005, Scoates has created a white hot art museum, buried in the middle of the Cal State campus. Struggling with the constraints of a troubled state budget crisis, his team has managed to bring world class exhibitions to Long Beach.

Scoates’ interest in the merging of technology and contemporary art disciplines has formed an exciting collaboration with a diverse group of artists, musicians and techno centric creatives.

Early in his tenure merging art and technology bought Scoates to the 5D project, a global community of multi-disciplinary creators.

In 2009, the University Art Museum presented Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings. The avant garde musician was one of the forerunners of ambient music. His installation of light and sound premiered at the Venice Bienalle in 2007. The University Art Museum followed with Lou Reed’s Metal Machine. This project was the culmination of a decades long vision for Reed. The 1975 album, critically rejected by the music industry and the musicians own fans, is now considered a seminal forerunner of contemporary sound art.

“Part of the reason I did the Lou Reed Metal Machine show is that Music for Airports, Brian Enos album, and Metal Machine both came out in 1975,” Scoates said. [Actually, Music for Airports came out in 1978, but was based on the music-making approach pioneered on Discrete Music in 1975].

“They are both about generative systems, but very different sound. So the Lou Reed, and the Brian Eno projects sort of bookend, an interesting trajectory of new experimental sound pieces.”

This year the International Associations of Art Critics recognized UAM for “Best Show in a University Gallery” for its 2010 exhibition “Perpetual Motion: Michael Goldberg.” The other winner in this category was Dartmouth University’s Hood Museum. Scoates notes that as he traveled to accept the award, he found himself surrounded by people from the New York Metropolitan Museum, The Whitney Museum and the Guggenheim. Undeniably a heady crowd for the director of a university museum.

While strongly stating that the art world needs to expand beyond historical models, Scoates does not intend to ignore the historical context of traditional media. The UAM was the recipient of an endowment from the Hampton family that has allowed them to build several major exhibitions, “Perpetual Motion” being a prime example.

“We were gifted 85 second generation abstract expressionist works. Five Lee Krasners, Adolph Gottleieb, Michael Goldberg, Melan Resnick, a really fabulous collection. It’s an educational opportunity and creates a foundation to build upon,” Scoates explained.

This means other collectors are also willing to work with the museum because of the collection, Scoates noted.

In the fall, UAM’s show “From the Vault” will primarily be drawn from Perpetual Motion collection.

“It allows us to balance the other crazy things we are doing, like the technology projects, the Lou Reed and Brian Eno,” Scoates said. “It allows us to provide an interesting balance.”

“It allows people to think differently about what they are hearing in some of the sound works and what they are seeing in some of the paintings. They are actually not that far from each other.”

The University Art Museum has struggled with a familiar challenge. Internationally known but locally obscure. Somewhat ironically, many of the CSULB students graduate without ever visiting the award winning museum. In addition the location, in the heart of one of California’s busiest campuses, has sometimes proven to be a hurdle for the local Long Beach residents, a city that has tried to create an identity as an arts community with mixed results.

The director strongly believes that the museum world is changing radically.

“New technologies have allowed us to blur boundaries. New ideas of experience and interaction, which I don’t think we can continue to ignore.”

The University Art Museum and its director has followed through on that vision.

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