Natalie & James Thompson Gallery
San Jose State University Art Galleries inspire visitors to explore the past, present, and future influences of art and design on our daily lives. We challenge conventional assumptions through scholarly research and public programs; champion diversity through the presentation of an expansive range of object-based and process-oriented genres; and facilitate an ongoing dialogue that diminishes the distance between studying and creating works of art and design. The Thompson Gallery, in particular, creates a bridge between the campus and the regional, national and international worlds of professional art practice.
Founded in 1857, San Jose State University is the oldest public university in California. Its Department of Art and Art History offers one of the largest, most diverse, academically accessible, and most highly selective public programs in art and design in the western U.S. It is the only CSU campus offering full BA, BFA, MA, and MFA studies to some 500+ graduates and undergraduate students per semester. Located in San Jose, the most populous city in northern California and the population and psychological center of Silicon Valley, the Department of Art and Art History reflects the entrepreneurial and inventive nature of the region through the development of new programs, innovative collaborations with area corporations, and academic leadership in the fields of art, art history, and arts education.
Seymour Rosen: You Haven’t Seen Everything Yet!
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The Natalie and James Thompson Gallery is delighted to present the only West Coast viewing of photographs and photograms by Los Angeles photographer Seymour Rosen (1935-2006). Although primarily known as a documentary photographer, Rosen explored his creativity by casting a wide net; in total, his holistic approach to the world’s visuals provide a moving portrait of mid-century Los Angeles, in all its grandeur and grit.
Born in Chicago, Rosen arrived as a teenager in Los Angeles with his family, and found his life’s work after his brother brought him back a camera when he returned from his military deployment in Germany. He wrote that “the ‘50s [were] a perfect time for a youngster of 17 to come to Los Angeles,” and he expressed how invigorated he was by the “new tastes and smells” as well as by “novel forms of creativity.” Rosen informally apprenticed to the noted photographer Marvin Rand, who had been photographing Sabato Rodia’s Towers in the Watts section of Los Angeles, among other subjects, and suggested that Rosen try to photograph them himself. At his first attempt, Rosen walked around and around, finally snapped three photographs, and then gave up; seduced by their beauty and undaunted by their complexity, however, he was to return again and again for fifty more years, and his photographs of the Towers have become some of the most iconic—as well as historically valuable—images ever made of these spectacular constructions.
After returning from military service in Korea, Rosen became a photographer for the seminal Ferus Gallery, and his images of some of the most important figures in the contemporary art scene of that time continue to be referenced and reproduced. As he also pursued his ongoing documentation of the Towers, his interest expanded to other popular, creative, and vernacular arts of all kinds. He captured images of custom hot-rod cars, store-front churches, street happenings such as the “love-ins” of the sixties, parades, murals, neon signs, graffiti, gang markers and more, reveling in the boundary-busting aesthetic expressions of those who would never describe themselves as artists. He realized that the “extemporaneous individual acts of people declaring their existence” were universal, but, as so many of them were ephemeral, they were also almost universally unrecorded in a consistent manner. He set out to fill that gap, melding sometimes stark documentary work along with elegant and artful experiments with light and form.
While Rosen was honored with two solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the early 1960s and one at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1978, the range of his work has not been fully explored since that time. This will be the only West Coast exhibition of this material: subsequent to the SJSU display the artist’s archives will be transferred to a Midwestern museum and Foundation. This exhibition has been drawn from SPACES – Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments, the nonprofit organization that Rosen founded to document the often ephemeral acts and expressions created by residents of mid-century Los Angeles and, indeed, the world: the range of wonderful and woeful moments that make up – and perhaps change – our lives.
In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, curator Jo Farb Hernández will speak about Rosen’s work in an illustrated presentation on April 25 from 5-6 pm in Art #133. This presentation and the following opening reception, held immediately afterward from 6 – 7:30 pm, are free and open to the public.