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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

NELSON ARTfriends tour the exhibit of a familiar name

Artist and former UC Davis art professor William T. Wiley has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution with a collection of his former works. The exhibit, entitled “What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect,” will feature approximately 85 of his works from the late 1960s to the present, borrowed from public and private collections as well as from the artist. The exhibit will provide a serious overview of Wiley’s career while exploring important themes and ideas expressed in his work.

On Mar. 20 at 10 a.m., NELSON ARTfriends members and students will have a unique opportunity to have a guided tour of the exhibit by Renny Pritikin, director of the Richard L. Nelson Gallery and Fine Art Collection. Student tickets are $20, and there is a limit of five students for this tour.

This tribute has been on tour since October, starting in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian. Now, it has traveled to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

“The trip to UC Berkeley is one of many trips we take to broaden knowledge of current art forms and shows,” said ARTfriends president Barry Raner in an e-mail interview. “We sponsor 4 to 5 tours each year.”

The NELSON ARTfriends are an organization of university and regional art lovers who support the Gallery’s programs and raise funds to sponsor scholarship and support the mission. Membership is open to interested students for a nominal fee and offers each student a chance to join the group to regional art exhibitions.

This will be the first full scale look at Wiley’s 50-year career. Work includes established drawings, watercolor, acrylic paintings, sculptures and printmaking, along with some of his performances pieces. The more recent printed pins, tapestries and even a pinball machine designed by Wiley will also be displayed.

Many artworks in the exhibition are on public display for the first time.

“Wiley is really beloved by the Davis community because of his close ties,” Pritkin said. “There has been enough interest from [ARTfriends] members for us to take a trip to Berkeley to see this exhibition.”

Wiley joined the UC Davis faculty in 1962 in the art department. His contemporaries at the time included Bay Area Funk movement artists Robert Arneson and Roy De Forest. The former and much beloved professor lectured in Davis throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Now 72, Wiley is retired and living in the Bay Area.

His award-winning juxtaposition of tough individualism and Zen Buddhism and his quirky lyrical pieces has led his work to be called “Pop Western” and “Metaphysical Funk.” This brought him high acclaim throughout the years.

Pritikin said that what makes Wiley interesting is his ability to tell stories with a sense of humor, and often uses words and puns to further provide commentary on many politically charged events. Art, politics, war, global warming, foolishness, ambition, hypocrisy and irony are all constant themes in the artist’s work.

“The Smithsonian-organized Wiley exhibition recognizes the national and international standing of the UC Davis art department,” said Blake Stimson, professor of Art History in an e-mail interview. “[This] standing can be traced back to its early days when it was formed by Richard Nelson.”

Wiley’s distinctive American style has come to be strongly associated with Northern California and specifically with UC Davis.

“Since his retirement, the UC Davis art department has expanded its horizons with its faculty, drawing on many other influences,” Stimson said. “But it also maintains strong ties to the artistic sensibility of Wiley’s era.”

With the artist having so many ties to UC Davis and the surrounding community, it might seem strange that “What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect” does not tour through Davis.

“Being honored by the Smithsonian is a big deal in the art world” Pritikin said. “Unfortunately, UC Davis does not yet have a space large enough for traveling exhibitions like this to be housed in.”

Transportation by charter bus and free admission to the museum are included in the ticket price. Tickets are still available but reservations for this event must be made by Mar. 15, by contacting Katrina Wong at 752-8500.

ANASTASIA ZHURAVLEVA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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