For new University Art Gallery Director Aandrea Stang, art is more than just a sculpture or a painting on the wall – it’s a way of engaging with the world around it. She’s excited by the chance to share her enthusiasm for art and how it can activate and engage the CSU Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) community.
“It’s hugely important to me,” said Stang. “My mom’s an artist. I was raised in a cultural community, and when I get super-excited about something, I want to engage other people with it. My job has always been to get folks interested and excited about what they’re seeing.”
She knows that getting the public interested in art can seem like a daunting task, especially as art programs are removed from public school curriculums. “I think that sometimes people don’t necessarily know how to look at art,” Stang said.
“They don’t know that they’re welcome in these spaces,” she continues. “They think that having art as part of your daily life is not normal. My goal is to create projects that will feel very welcoming and open. . . I’d like to do stuff not just inside the gallery but on the campus grounds, so that more people will experience it.
Faculty Exhibition 2018, featuring works of CSUDH’s Art and Design faculty, opens September 17 and runs through October 10, 2018. The University Art Gallery is located on the first floor of LaCorte Hall, A107.
Before coming to CSUDH, Stang was the head of education at downtown L.A.’s prestigious Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery. She has also served as director of OxyArts at Occidental College and spent a decade at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) as their Senior Education Program Manager. At each venue, Stang focused on creating meaningful connections between the art and artists and their audience in the community.
“I try to find some kind of hook, maybe a few ideas or keywords that will give people entrance into the work, so that when they get in the gallery they can know what they’re looking at,” said Stang.
Her work at OxyArts provides a good preview of the kinds of projects that Stang hopes to stage at CSUDH. “At Occidental, we used artwork to provoke the students to think as they were walking across campus. I always try to figure out what’s going to get people engaged.”
One of her favorite OxyArts projects was We Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust. The ambitious installation involved bringing a full-size replica of an MQ-1B Predator drone onto campus, then inviting the community to help cover it in mud. It was the kind of large-scale spectacle that everyone on campus noticed – and talked about, Stang shared.
Seeing the drone up close was an impactful experience for everyone involved. “It was a level of spectacle that interested the students and the community, and created a space for us to be able to talk about how our country is engaged militarily in the Middle East using a very clear visual.”
Of course, not everyone saw the drone in such a serious light. “All these families started using the drone as a prop. They would put their kids in front of it and take pictures with the Hellfire missile. That was weird,” she laughs. Stang believes that even such a light-hearted engagement can reap benefits, though.
“I feel that there’s always a way to balance the fun and the political. There’s always a hook, a way in for people. Then, once they start looking more closely, they’ll realize that there are these socio-political or cultural aspects to them,” she said.
CSUDH’s spacious, open campus has Stang thinking about staging similar large-scale projects here. “Initially, the projects might be slightly more spectacular, to try and hook the students and the community. I’d like to engage with the public spaces on campus. With the flat lawns and low buildings, there are some great opportunities here to showcase large projects.”
Stang has been a presence in the Los Angeles art scene for over 20 years, and plans to use her art world connections to bring a bit of the DTLA art world to Dominguez Hills. “The campus is far enough from downtown that it can be hard for our students to get to the major museums and galleries. I want to bring those opportunities to the campus.”
She doesn’t plan to step in and start changing things on day one, though. “I really want to spend a little bit of time getting to know the place and the people, so that I can build a cultural center on campus that will be valuable to them. I want to get a sense of who the students are and what they’re interested in. I already know what I like, but I want to find out what’s going to be provocative for the student body and what’s going to be engaging for them.”
She adds, “I’m really hoping to simultaneously learn from the community while I’m engaging with it. There will be a learning curve on both sides but I’m super-excited about it!”
“Hopefully, what’s valuable to me and what’s valuable to the community will intersect,” Stang continues. “I want to bring artists and a little bit of the art world to campus, so that the students have new people with whom they can dialogue. Not just art students, but anyone!”