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Sunday, July 21, 2024

UC Davis Professor Emeritus Mike Henderson to hold first solo exhibition in 20 years

“Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985” will display never-before-seen work by the artist  


By ADHITHI ANJALI — arts@theaggie.org


The exhibit that will open the new year at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum celebrates the art and contributions of UC Davis Professor Emeritus Mike Henderson. Entitled “Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985,” the exhibition will display art previously thought lost alongside famous protest paintings, such as “Non-Violence, 1967.”

Based in San Francisco, Henderson has made profound contributions to modernist and abstract Californian art. He also worked as a professor and member of the UC Davis art faculty for 43 years before retiring in 2012. 

Henderson, originally from Marshall, Missouri, earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). The Haines Gallery, which will also host some of Henderson’s paintings in their exhibition opening Jan. 21, describes how Henderson’s art moved from a figurative style to abstraction as he received his master’s in 1970 and grew as an artist. “Before the Fire” will provide a bridge to follow this shift through his now-restored art. 

Henderson’s work offers an example of the ability of an artist to contribute to the political landscape of their time. Taking up the tools of experimentalism and abstraction, the exhibition will explore the upwelling of social movements that took place between the 1960s and 1980s through Henderson’s eyes. In the form of paint and experimental film, Henderson’s art brings visions of Black American life, as well as both an understanding of Henderson’s historical position and his imaginings of utopian futures.  

The exhibition is curated with the help of Dan Nadel, former curator-at-large at the Manetti Shrem Museum, and Sampada Aranke, who earned her doctorate in performance studies at UC Davis in 2011. Aranke first encountered Henderson’s work while teaching at SFAI from 2015 to 2017. She and Nadel delved deeper into the contexts and story of his work while creating this collection.

The exhibition’s title stems from the fire that damaged Henderson’s studio in 1985. The assumption was that all of the paintings in the studio were destroyed and lost in the fire; however, as Aranke said, “The museum has put in a lot of resources to conserve these paintings and bring them into the gallery.” Now, many of these paintings will be exhibited for the first time and serve as an example of how institutional investment in local artists can be beneficial to communities as well. 

Aranke also explained the use of fire as a subject and technique in the paintings. 

“This idea comes from the assumption that historians have of ‘a world on fire’ in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Aranke said, referring to the groundswell of political activist movements of the time, such as Black Power

Additionally, fire was literally used in creating these works. Aranke described how Henderson would create burn tracks and marks on his canvases, further highlighting the vigor and experimentation that underlies his art. 

Aranke hopes that students who visit the exhibition will leave with a new understanding and appreciation of Henderson’s experimentation and his message. 

“His art is very ambidextrous, experimenting across media at a historical moment where there is a groundswell of social movements and activism,” Aranke said. “This exhibit will encounter how an artist like [Henderson] is responding to those social and political moments from the position of a Black artist.” 

Aranke also explained the intersection of art, form, politics and history. 

“An exhibition like this at a university museum like the Shrem offers an opportunity to have more dialogue about art and artmaking as an archival practice, a historic practice,” Aranke said.  

The exhibition will debut on Jan. 29 at the Manetti Shrem Museum, where Henderson and Chancellor Gary May will hold a public opening event from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. “Before the Fire” will be available for viewing until June 25. For more information, an accompanying catalog edited by Aranke and Nadel is available through UC Press. 

Written by: Adhithi Anjali — arts@theaggie.org