New UC San Diego art gallery director hopes to encourage ‘alternative and socially conscious’ art practice
Ceci Moss is the new director and chief curator of the Mandeville Art Gallery at UC San Diego. Her first exhibition in her new role with the university is the faculty art exhibition, “Are We Not Drawn Onward to New Era,” from March 4 to June 18
Ceci Moss describes herself as a curious and adventurous person who’s always looked for new ideas and experiences, naturally evolving into a career in contemporary art. Her nontraditional approach to the style can be found in her nearly 20-year body of work, notably in her nonprofit mobile art gallery. She credits that eye to the unconventional to her heavy involvement in the riot grrrl feminist punk movement of the 1990s, and she’s bringing a similar sensibility to her newest role as director and chief curator of UC San Diego’s Mandeville Art Gallery.
“During my interviews for the role, it was clear that the university was committed to continuing the gallery’s legacy, while also building a highly innovative space for the presentation of contemporary art,” she says, noting that she’s long admired the university’s visual arts department and has followed the Mandeville gallery’s renovations. “For instance, many of the updates were designed specifically to enhance the gallery’s ability to show digital art, such as a new exterior, wrap around LED screen and a dedicated black box space.”
For her first exhibition in the newly renovated space, Moss has selected the works of new faculty members who’ve joined the visual arts department in the past eight years in the upcoming “Are We Not Drawn Onward to New Era,” opening March 4 and continuing through June 18. The reception is from 2 to 6 p.m. March 4 and coincides with graduate open studios at the same time, featuring works from more than 30 of the department’s master’s and Ph.D. students.
Moss, 41, is also a professor in the visual arts department and currently splits her time between her home in Los Angeles and here, in University Heights. She took some time to talk about her goals for making Mandeville a “teaching gallery” and her view of art as a means of survival.
Q: Congratulations on your new role as gallery director and chief curator of the UC San Diego Mandeville Art Gallery. What was your familiarity with the gallery before taking this job?
A: The Mandeville Art Gallery has an impressive history, spanning from one of the first exhibitions devoted to Fluxus [an avant-garde art collective encouraging experimentation and public participation, according to The Fluxus Museum] in California in 1969, with Alison Knowles’ “Fluxus: the Big Book,” to commissioned projects by numerous celebrated artists such as Mike Kelley, Barbara T. Smith, Betye Saar, Richard Serra, Nancy Spero, and Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, to name but a few of the hundreds of exhibitions hosted at the gallery. As a curator and academic with a background in new media, performance, and other experimental art forms, I’m impressed by the gallery’s risk-taking reputation, and I plan to expand upon that foundation.
Q: You have a lot of experience as an art lecturer and curator. Can you talk about what you’ve envisioned for your work with the Mandeville Art Gallery and how your background will contribute to executing this vision?
A: I’ve spent my entire adult life working in forward-thinking arts institutions such Gas, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Rhizome, and the New Museum; as such, I’m aware of the need for innovative institutional models to support the presentation and production of art. Toward that end, I envision the Mandeville gallery as a “teaching gallery” for the 21st century, promoting technologically innovative, democratic, accessible, equitable, and socially-engaged means of artistic production and presentation. My hope is that the gallery will inspire and train the next generation of arts leadership, and that the UC San Diego students who engage with the institution will feel empowered to forge their own alternative and socially conscious artistic and curatorial practices.
What I love about University Heights...
I appreciate the walkability and the many small, neighborhood businesses of University Heights.
Q: In a story from the university announcing your arrival, you mention developing a program that “positions art as a means for social change and new ideas.” What have been some of your own experiences in the ability of contemporary art, specifically, to do this?
A: Art, first and foremost, is a means of survival. It provides a sense of kinship, community, shared understanding, empathy, and healing. I’m grateful that I’ve witnessed this in practice over and over in my own professional life, and within the work of so many people around me.
One of many examples that I could point to is a project I curated called “bless our breath” in Fall 2020 during the height of the pandemic. “bless our breath” was a deck of playing cards initiated by artist Kimi Hanauer that facilitates conversation, reflection, and creative process around breath, as both a theme and a practice, through a range of ideas, questions, and prompts. The project honored the symbolic and practical implications of breath within a cultural and political moment of uprising and rupture — the intersections of the movement for Black liberation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impacts of climate change resulting in mass wildfires and polluted air. All sales of the card deck benefited mutual aid programs that focused on food insecurity and wellness. It was such a beautiful and rewarding project to develop and brought so much immediate good into the world during a difficult period.
Q: Your first exhibition at Mandeville is the upcoming “Are We Not Drawn Onward to New Era.” What was your approach to curating this exhibition, your first in this role?
A: I’ve conducted many studio visits with the faculty in the department, while also fully absorbing the long history of the Mandeville Art Gallery by working in the institution’s archives at the university. This has allowed me to see how faculty shows have functioned historically within the context of the Mandeville gallery; indeed, they’ve been quite important. Past shows provided a platform for the recent research and thinking of visual arts faculty, while also inviting the local community to see work by artists who are often exhibiting outside of the region. That said, “Are We Not Drawn Onward to New Era” has a different sensibility than past faculty shows in that I’ve carefully chosen projects that speak to the challenges and possibilities of our current moment, in all of its complexity. I hope visitors walk away from the exhibition with a strengthened belief in our collective shared future.
Q: From the exhibit description, the pieces focus on what’s currently happening in the world around us: climate change, social justice, technology, threats to democracy. Can you tell us about a couple of the pieces that people can expect to see next month and why there were selected?
A: One of the first works in the exhibition is dean erdmann’s “To Whom It May Concern, dean, after Catherine, after” (2022), where the artist covered the gallery’s entire glass front entrance with vinyl transparencies depicting dedications from queer literature (originally gathered by writer and artist Catherine Lord, a friend of the artist, hence the title). Light reflects through the bits of text and texture of photocopied pages throughout the gallery, so it almost feels like stained glass. The piece foregrounds the network of care, collaboration, and kinship behind queer publishing. I see the work as a testament to the power of community within creative process, and its hold even across generations.
Kinship and family are also themes central to several knit paintings by Las Hermanas Iglesias, a project by assistant professor Janelle Iglesias and her sister, Lisa Iglesias. These textile works are a collaboration between Las Hermanas Iglesias and their mother Bodhild Iglesias, and they depict instruments of family planning as a shared statement of protest against the Supreme Court’s disastrous and destructive decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and other legislative restrictions on reproductive justice.
The show also includes a large video installation titled “Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater” by My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), a collaborative performance troupe using music, costume, masks, video, and installation to theatricalize social issues. The video is edited from documentation of a staging in Fall 2022 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in conjunction with the tour of My Barbarian’s 20-year retrospective exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art. I imagine that visitors will respond to the mix of humor, anxiety, and theatricality of the work.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: I like to spend my weekends visiting San Diego’s cultural institutions, both large and small, such the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, or the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego, or BEST PRACTICE.
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