An interview with Susanna Meiers

by Garrison Frost

Susanna Meiers is the curator of the El Camino College Art Gallery, a venue that probably doesn't get the amount of attention it deserves. Not only is the gallery a spacious facility that hosts great exhibitions, but it is also an educational asset, serving as a visual arts laboratory and classroom. The gallery also serves as a practice studio for classes at the college on the business and presentation of art in a gallery context.

The gallery just recently opened its first show of the new school year, "Landscape of the Sublime," which runs through Sept. 28. With the annual reopening of the gallery just completed, we though it would be a good time to talk to Susanna Meiers, the facility's longtime curator, to learn a little more about her approach to programming.

Garrison Frost: You've shown a pretty diverse program at the gallery in the last few years. What types of shows do you look for, and how is this affected by the fact that the venue is associated with an educational institution?

Susanna Meiers: I look for shows that would stimulate discussion and study both within the art department and throughout the greater campus and community. I try to provide at least one show a year that has some large social concern as the central focus -- whether it is addressed through the work of one artist or several. Additionally, it is the aim of the gallery to create shows that feature specific techniques or areas of study that are offered in the Fine Arts Department at the college. Within this broad educational focus I attempt to create shows that are enlivening as well as containing excellent examples of craftsmanship, imagination etc. Because the art gallery at El Camino is first and foremost a teaching tool, the shows I put together are intended to be approachable by students who may not be familiar with art or the art world. That is not to say that the shows are simplistic or banal but neither are they shows that feature art for artists.

Do you feel any need to focus on local South Bay artists? I could see how that could cut both ways. On the one hand, you might want to support the community, but on the other hand you might want to introduce new artists to your local audience.

No, I do not feel the need to focus on local South Bay artists. I am eager to support local artists, but do not want to be limited. If we had the budget, I would be delighted to ship in art from around the globe. I feel that it is important that the students are exposed to as broad a range of work as we can provide. In addition, I have been here for 20 years and am eager to expand my own outlook.

Has there been a show that you were particularly proud to bring to El Camino? Have there been any that you really wished had come together but hadn't?

There have been a number of exhibitions that I have been really glad to bring to El Camino College. Perhaps my favorite was a show of artists responding to AIDS. We did this show in 1992. It was titled "Affliction and Transcendence" and featured the work of Kim Abeles, Diane Neumaier, Mark Niblock-Smith, AIDS activist art group-Powers of Desire, and Ben Sakoguchi. The show received tremendous attention from the press and from the community. It seemed to have deep affect that went far beyond light art chat. The exhibition included an installation- a large room full of medical perscriptions and equipment that were used by artist Mark Niblock Smith, who was then dying of AIDS. The rows of equipment lay beneath a huge photo of Mark, skeletel, in a loose loin cloth. It was a potent and very disturbing piece. Powers of Desire produced exuberant costume pieces out of condoms and had a large fish bowl of free condoms at the gallery door.

More recently, in 2005, we produced a show called "The Other Early Americans" that included work of Edith Abeyta, Angela Briggs, Ken Gonzales-Day, Betty Lee, Michael Lewis Miller, Laughing Horse Robinson, Kat Skraba, and Laura Stickney. The work ranged from installation to photography, printmaking, doll making and a group of traditional Kawaiisi Indian Huts in the gallery courtyard. The exhibition attempted to address some of the non-mainstream-White sectors of population who comprise a chunk of the underpinnings of this country.It included work of and about Native Americans, gays, Chinese Americans African Americans, Latinos and more. In addition, Kat Skraba did a ghostly performance in a rocking chair, epitomizing the feminine climate of the 19th century. Her emphasis for the piece has to do with the plight of women who worked in garment factories. It was a lively and thought provoking show that also received good press attention and much local enthusiasm. I was delighted to be involved.

In terms of shows that I regret not doing -- generally I don't have regrets that I can think of at this moment. Surely there must have been exclusions of specific individuals that were unintentional and most likely, hurtful. That is more where my regrets lie.

Not only do you operate a gallery here, but you are also directly involved in the education of new artists. Plus, as you say, you've been working in this environment long enough to see some trends. I'm curious what the South Bay art scene looks like from your perspective.

I think that Kristina Newhouse is doing a great job at the Torrance Art Museum and that Megumi Sando continues to provide worthwhile shows in Manhattan. Cathy Zimmerer has always been a hard worker and an interesting curator in my opinion. I have not been to enough of Gallery C shows to assess the scene there, but they certainly made a splashy enough entrance a couple of years ago. I am glad to see San Pedro grow in terms of numbers of serious artists ensconced there and I am a fan of Marshall Astor at Angels Gate and at his own gallery, Walled City. He is an original thinker and very creative human being. That is the local run-down at this moment.

Last question: So what are you doing at the gallery this year that has you excited?

All of it. This year's schedule for the gallery at El Camino College is as follows:

  • "Landscape of the Sublime," Aug. 28 to Sept. 22
    Works by Hilary Brace, Angie Bray, Steve Comba, Michael Kenna, Yunsun Lee, Victor Raphael, Anne Scheid, Clayton Spada, Masao Yamamoto, and Pat Warner
  • Faculty Show 2006 Oct. 9 to Nov. 3, Works by El Camino College Fine Art Department Faculty
  • "Outside In/The Figure Unearthed," Nov. 20 to Dec, 15
    Recent works by Peter Liashkov
    (Working from live subjects, Liashkov executes his pieces in charcoal on a velum-like translucent fiberglass called synskin. The large (8'-10' high) figures are highly individualized while simultaneously revealing a range of universal human qualities.)
  • "Centripetal Force," Feb. 12 to March 9, Dennis Callwood and Keiko Fukazawa
    (Dennis Callwood collaborates with young men who are either in prison or on probation to create provacative works that include photographs, text and painted images. Keiko Fukazawa collaborates with the same population to make large scale ceramic pieces and painted kimonos, shoes and bags.)
  • "Through the Looking Glass," March 26 to April 27
    Lucy Baker-Holdmann, Raoul De la Sota, Daniel Du Plessis, Rosie Getz, Ursula-Kammer-Fox, Stuart Rapeport, Sonia Romero, Christopher Schneberger, Elena Siff, Robin Valle and Addona Khare.
    (This exhibition provides a broad look at the world of fantasy and includes photography, drawing, collage, painting, sculpture and video.)
  • Student Show 2007 May 14 to June 1
    Works by El Camino College Fine Arts Department Students

(Sept. 26, 2006)

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