Nelson Gallery closing soon as UC Davis prepares for new museum

Photo: Kyle Monhollen, senior preparator, wraps a piece of art for transportation and storage.
Last days at the Nelson: Kyle Monhollen, senior preparator, wraps a piece of art for transportation and storage. After one last show in June, the gallery will close. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Since opening in 1976, the Richard L. Nelson Gallery at the University of California, Davis, has held exhibitions ranging from large stone sculptures to old master prints to video and sound installations. It has shown works by world-famous faculty members and hundreds of UC Davis art students.

This successful 40-year run comes to an end when the gallery closes in late June. The important role that the gallery played in visual arts at UC Davis will be expanded as the university prepares to open the new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art opening during the 2016-17 academic year.

Hub of art activity

“The gallery has been the hub of so much important art activity at UC Davis for four decades, and we plan to honor that legacy as we move forward,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Shrem Museum. “The gallery has helped us build a strong foundation for the next stage in opening a world-class museum. While the gallery has done admirable service, UC Davis and the larger cultural community in the region have grown beyond what it can provide in terms of physical space and resources.”

The gallery was named for the founding chair of the UC Davis Department of Art.

“Richard Nelson was a visionary, making the UC Davis art department a shining light in contemporary art, and the gallery named for him continued to remind everyone of that,” Teagle said. “His vision will be honored in the new museum both directly and indirectly.”

The gallery was originally located in the art building and relocated to the former University Club, renamed Nelson Hall, on Old Davis Road in 2011.

The Shrem Museum offices will remain in Nelson Hall until the museum opens. The building also houses the Della Davidson Performance Studio used by the theater and dance and performance studies departments. Long-term plans for the gallery space have not been determined.

Many significant shows

Among the most significant exhibitions at the gallery have been “Views on Migration: Jacob Lawrence & Elizabeth Catlett,” made up of prints by two African-American artists; “You See: The Early Years of the UC Davis Studio Art Faculty,” featuring art by Robert Arneson, Wayne Thiebaud, Roy De Forest, Manual Neri and William Wiley; and a regional biennial titled “Flatlanders” that ran from 2006 to 2012, as well as a number of exhibitions draw from the university’s fine arts collection.

The final exhibition at the Nelson Gallery will be a thesis exhibition by seven master of fine arts students. Titled “jjmwmnl,” it runs June 5-21.

Nelson built acclaimed department

Nelson was hired to teach art at UC Davis in 1952 and in 1958 became chair of the newly formed department, building it into a nationally recognized program. Among his early hires were Robert Arneson, William Wiley, Wayne Thiebaud, Manuel Neri, Roy De Forest and others who made significant marks in the art world. Nelson retired in 1966 and died in 1972.

Art department faculty member L. Price Amerson founded the gallery and led it until his death in 1999. He also worked to expand the university’s fine arts collection.

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