By: Leah Olds and Noah Garcia
The Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum hosted a soft launch reopening on Saturday, Feb. 12, after being closed for two years due to construction.
Located on lower campus across from the College of Business, the expanded facility offered a number of fresh attractions for visitors to experience, including an education laboratory, sustainable garden spaces, a 14-foot tall Millard Sheets mosaic mural, and brand new art exhibitions.
During the event, museum director Paul Baker Prindle welcomed visitors while sharing Kleefeld Contemporary’s mission: To challenge artistic misconceptions within society about what constitutes art and who can make it.
“At the very entry level, we can play a role in expanding our understanding in who makes art,” Prindle said.“I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s so much more to be done. ”
The director hopes the space will be a catalyst for exploration in the community, pushing visitors to question their own viewpoints and redefine them.
As a reflection of this message, this season’s galleries showcase artists of various sexualities, ethnicities and gender.
Originally founded in 1973, Kleefeld Contemporary was a modest two-gallery space in the CSULB Library before moving to the Horn Center in 1993, and eventually underwent renovations in 2020.
The expansion project was made possible by $24 million in funding from the state and from private donors, which includes a $10 million donation by its benefactress and namesake, Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld.
A large portion of her donation was directed to educational programs and scholarships, according to Amanda Fruta, the museum’s public affairs specialist.
“All of our vendors are alumni because we’re trying to bridge the gap between being a learning student and being a working professional,” Fruta said. “We do produce significant scholarships and also publications that we’ve been known for, for some time.”
The facility’s interior has since been redesigned and expanded by 4,000 square feet, boasting five new exhibition galleries, repurposed classrooms, and an archives room.
Exterior spaces have also been completely transformed. The museum’s front walkway now functions as both a seating area and outdoor event space, called “Patron’s Plaza.”
Near the west entrance to the building, metallic sculptures by California artists Maren Hassinger and Eugenia Butler are integrated into garden landscapes where native and water-wise plants grow.
The facility’s plant life and rooftop solar panels are just two of many features that helped award it a silver certificate of sustainability from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a major green building rating system.
Another noticeable addition to the museum’s original architecture is a slanted, angular structure that protrudes from the left side of the front entrance, giving the building a more contemporary appearance. The geometric fixture also features a 3,000 square foot Main Gallery, erected from what was once a grassy lawn.
Fruta believes the eye-catching architecture will attract more visitors, both students and non-students alike. She specifically noticed more guest traffic in the garden spaces, which she says have been “packed” since they opened to the public.
“People had a lot of problems finding us because our doors were inset quite a bit and we had frosted glass. So this is a huge improvement for us because it’s obvious that this is a museum now,” Fruta said.
Even more enticing than the expanded spaces are the displays of talent that lie within them. The soft launch featured individual pieces and painting series by several renowned artists, including Hung Viet Nguyen, Linda Besemer, Mark Bradford, Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld, and the late Rita Letendre.
A style motif that unites the collections is abstraction, achieved using various artistic methods. Each of the five main galleries exhibit colorful interpretations of abstraction that are complemented by themes, like the power of the natural world, which is explored in Hung Viet Nguyen’s “Sacred Landscapes” series in the museum’s Community Gallery.
“I go many places, I combine my own ideas, put them together, [see] how they work,” Nguyen, a Torrance-based artist, said. “I like to remind people [that nature] is beautiful, and that’s also dangerous.”
Many guests flocked to the spacious Main Gallery, where Linda Besemer’s works are located.
Besemer’s aptly-titled “StrokeRollFoldSheetSlabGlitch” series is a retrospective on their 35 years of work, wherein most of the pieces are made up of multiple acrylic paint layers that intersect to create what is best described as a ‘trippy’ effect. Their paintings play with different disciplines and dimensions, which impressed student visitor Jay Medina.
“A lot of it seems like it probably took a long time to make,” said Medina, a second-year pre-illustration major at Long Beach State. “And so, [I’m] definitely impressed with that. All of the colors and everything, it’s just so nice. Everything works together.”
Gabriel Enamorado, executive director of Stay Gallery in Downey, was another guest who was enamored with Besemer’s exhibit.
“Linda’s work really was super captivating. I think that the way she explores science, sexuality – everything through abstraction and methods of making art – is super unique,” Enamorando said.
Saturday’s soft launch also served as the kick-off of a semester-long series of art events selected by the College of the Arts.
This includes many programs which fall under the umbrella term of the arts: film, design, performance, and more. An “unveiling” event will take place on May 20 at Patron’s Plaza in front of the museum.
The exhibits will run until the end of the spring semester, with Bradford’s and Letendre’s galleries ending on March 26, Nguyen’s on May 7, and closing with Besemer and Kleefeld on June 25.
There will also be exhibition tours for Besemer on February 16 and for Nguyen on March 15.
Kleefeld Contemporary gives public art and sculpture tours every second Saturday at noon. Hours and other information can be found on the museum’s website.