At the entrance to the new exhibition Cantos of the Sibylline Sisterhood, currently on display at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery on ArtCenter’s Hillside Campus, Thinky Feely Tank—a huge multicolored intestine made out of mesh, felt and fabric by artist collective The Revolution School—dangles from the ceiling. Further inside, on a tall wall with her other artwork, is Brooklyn-based Chitra Ganesh’s Urgency, a pen and ink drawing in which a two-headed, three-breasted female character, wearing a mask, rises out of a burning city.
Inspired by sibyls—women in history who foretold the future—the exhibition, co-curated by Vice President of Exhibitions and Director of ArtCenter Galleries Julie Joyce, and Curator of Exhibitions and Associate Director of ArtCenter Galleries Christina Valentine (MA 01 Art Criticism and Critical Theory), features work by 10 emerging and established feminist, queer and transgender artists who explore boundaries of power and identity using science fiction, spirituality, fantasy and mythology.
One of our goals is that someone comes into the gallery and sees something that challenges the way they look at things, and affects some form of change.Julie JoyceVice President of Exhibitions
“We wanted these artists to have the space to dream and think about the great ‘what if,’” says Valentine, via Zoom, with Joyce. “They’re our future tellers to imagine a world where different identities are not considered a threat. Science fiction allows people normally seen as outsiders to be the heroes of the story.”
April Bey’s 2022 Afrofuturist artwork Your Failure is Not a Victory for Me—from the Bahamian American artist’s Colonial Swag series of advertisements for an imagined planet, Atlantica—depicts a painted figure hugging leaf-shaped textiles stitched with sparkling green thread. Standing in the middle of the exhibition are Mai-Thu Perret’s 2016 sculptures of four defiant women in military fatigues. They are part of the fictional feminist art commune the Crystal Frontier.
The Revolution School, co-founded by Jennifer Moon (MFA 02 Art), counters the dictatorial through healing, says Valentine. Next to their Thinky Feely Tank is My Little BEI—pronounced “bae” and short for “Belief Entity Identifier.” It’s a trauma-informed somatic AI in the form of robotic animals who help people process feelings produced by systems of oppression.
The exhibition, funded by a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance, is part of Exhibitions’ ambitious “Red-Hot Summer of Art and Design” roster of shows. Other exhibitions on view include: Redact, Rewrite, Reframe, a collaboration with the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography (HMCT), showcasing work that uses materials from news media; Everyday or Not at All, curated by Humanities and Sciences Assistant Professor Robert Kett and featuring work by three design studios in Mexico—APRDELESP, Fabien Cappello and Andrés Souto; and Graduate Art Professor Diana Thater’s (MFA 90) video sculpture Natural History One, part of the new 1111 Projects exhibition series and an online sale of works, in collaboration with the David Zwirner gallery, by alumni and faculty to benefit the new Artists for ArtCenter Grad Art Scholarship.
“We want ArtCenter's galleries to be a leading space for contemporary art and design in Pasadena and on the east side of Los Angeles,” says Joyce, adding that they also want their projects to embrace relevance and exploration. “One of our basic goals is that someone comes into the gallery and sees something that challenges the way they look at things, and affects some form of change,” she says.
Part of the philosophy also driving Exhibitions, according to both Joyce and Valentine, is a concept introduced by Stephen Greenblatt’s 1990 essay Resonance and Wonder, in which the author explored the balance between spectacle and meaning.
Joyce has led Exhibitions since 2021, when longtime head Stephen Nowlin (MFA 78 Art) retired after 40 years at the College. She and Valentine first joined the department in 2019: Joyce as then senior curator, and Valentine as then program director of the College’s flexible satellite space ArtCenter DTLA in the Old Bank District of downtown L.A.
Joyce has always loved art, since she was a kid, she says. Raised in Altadena, she took art classes at Pasadena City College, and many students she knew were trying to get into ArtCenter. After pivoting to art history in college, she worked at galleries before earning her graduate degree in art history and museum studies from the University of Southern California.
Joyce went on to become director of the Luckman Gallery at Cal State LA for a decade, and then curator of Contemporary Art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for 11 years, before coming to ArtCenter. Over decades in the gallery and museum world, she met ArtCenter alumni artists like Thater, and attended student exhibitions and Grad Show.
“I was really excited about the possibility of coming back to L.A., to be among family and friends here, and to join Exhibitions,” says Joyce. “I feel so connected and passionate about the communities that surround and are a part of ArtCenter.”
Valentine grew up in Southern California with the family expectation that she would become a lawyer. “My story is a good example of what happens when an immigrant Korean kid whose family has no wherewithal about the arts gets opportunities,” she says.
As a high school student in Cerritos, she participated in field trips to ArtCenter’s Student Gallery at Hillside. In college, she interned for a state senator, and also worked at the California Museum of Photography. She split her classes between art history and political science.
Though she promised her parents that she would go to law school, she instead started working as an education associate at the Hammer Museum, where she developed programs for major exhibitions such as Sexual Politics, Black Male and Too Jewish. She then earned her master’s degree at ArtCenter, and went on to do independent curation as well as work as director of Curatorial Projects at Zg Press. In 2010, she also started teaching at the College, and co-curated a 2013 retrospective of Lynn Aldrich (MFA 86 Art) at the Williamson Gallery.
Since 2019, Joyce and Valentine have implemented changes to Exhibitions that include piloting a residency program with L.A.-based artists; displaying the work of more than 30 artists in window exhibitions at ArtCenter DTLA after the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; creating a student worker gallery attendant position; targeting outreach to faculty and students about upcoming exhibitions; and forming a Getty Marrow Exhibitions and Archives Internship in collaboration with Archives and Special Collections.
“Julie and I are both very mindful that even the smallest opportunities can be a foothold for people to become curators and gallery directors, like us,” says Valentine.
And as for the future?
Exhibitions on the horizon include a Mullin Gallery solo show in Fall 2022 of dreamlike pieces by Mexican American artist Victor Estrada (BFA 86 Fine Art, MFA 88 Art). Also planned is a Summer 2023 ArtCenter DTLA solo show of work by mixed media artist Devin Troy Strother (BA 09 Illustration), who curated the exhibition Minority Report, part of 2019’s Impact 90/300 slate of exhibitions that highlighted ArtCenter's Black alumni. Both exhibitions received Pasadena Art Alliance funding. In Fall 2024, the Williamson Gallery will host a major group exhibition as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art x Science x Los Angeles initiative.
“How do we address cultural concerns in our exhibitions?” says Valentine. “Works, like the ones in Cantos, are always about nuance. With that in mind, we want to be able to present the full scope of artists in their complexity.”