Provocative works by extraordinary artists reveal ‘Human Conditions’

Robert Rauschenberg
Studies for Chinese Summerhall – Blue Lady (Large), 1983
Image courtesy of Graphicstudio / USF

Robert Fichter
Nature Returns. Cibachrome

Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Vito Acconci, Robert Rauschenberg…these are just a few of the extraordinary artists that will be featured in Human Conditions, a new exhibition running through November 20 at UCSC’s Sesnon Gallery.

The show is a provocative selection of famous photographs and prints, curated by Sesnon director Shelby Graham, that reveal the multifaceted levels of the human experience--from curious observations of daily life, to disturbing images of exploitation.  

The exhibition is drawn from the private collection of Arts Division dean David Yager and his wife Stacey.

Along with guests Richard Polsky--art dealer and author of I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)--and San Francisco gallery owner Catharine Clark, the dean will participate in a lively panel discussion on collecting art, immediately following the exhibition’s opening reception on October 19, which begins at 5 p.m.

“Collecting is a commitment to art and passion—and to living with art which I think is a wonderful thing,” Yager noted.

“It’s not only about buying art, but also about connecting with the artists. It’s more like going to open studios than going to a gallery--it’s that personal connection with the artist.”

“A lot of the works in the exhibition I didn’t purchase--I traded with the artists, or they were gifts, or I obtained them a long time ago,” Yager added. “Almost all the prints have a story--either how I came upon them, or from contact with the artist.”

Curator Graham noted that the exhibition provides a rare opportunity for students to encounter gelatin silver prints, photogravures. lithographs, etchings and mixed media work from some of the most creative artists of the 20th century.

“You’ll see a few surprises in the show,” said Graham, “such as a landscape by Ansel Adams on a commercial coffee can.

“And Vito Acconci--well known for video and performance art in the 1960s--has some stunning photo lithographs depicting suffering from the atomic bomb,” she added.

Also included will be photographs from Rauschenberg’s Studies for Chinese Summerhall series, taken in China in 1982.

“Most people know Robert Rauschenberg for his photographic montages,” said Graham. “But before he made his final collage (the 100-foot long photograph Chinese Summerhall), he decided to make editions of individual photographs; there are two in this exhibition.”

An additional panel related to the exhibition will take place at 6 p.m. on November 10 at the new UCSC Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) in room 308. Dean Yager will join UCSC arts faculty Norman Locks and Paul Rangell, plus longtime Cabrillo College instructor Jane Gregorius, for a discussion about the artistic process of image making and collaborations with limited edition prints.

The complete list of artists in the Sesnon exhibition: Ansel Adams, Vito Acconci, Diane Arbus, Thomas Barrow, Harry Callahan, Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Fred Endsley, Robert Fichter, Robert Heinecken, Robert Mapplethorpe, Barbara Morgan, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Miriam Shapiro, Kara Walker, and Joel Peter Witkin.


Human Conditions runs at the Sesnon Gallery through November 20. The gallery is located at Porter College, on the UC Santa Cruz campus. A reception for the exhibition will take place on Tuesday, October 19 at 5 p.m., followed by a panel discussion on collecting art beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (831) 459-3606 or go to the Sesnon Gallery web site.