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A Vision for UA Galleries is Coming to Fruition
In addition to working with students and faculty, Brooke Grucella, the UA School of Art galleries curator, has brought to campus artists whose work is typically seen only in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
On any given day, Brooke Grucella is planning exhibitions with University of Arizona students and faculty, installing and moving artwork and making new contacts with artists who are gaining fame in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.
No matter her schedule, Grucella remains committed to the vision she had four years ago after being named galleries curator for the UA School of Art: to elevate the status of the galleries in artistic circles not only in Arizona, but also in other parts of the country.
"We have an absolute need to cater to our community here, but we want to be able to engender interest from a broad range of people," said Grucella, also a School of Art professor of practice.
Grucella arrived at the UA in 2006 to serve as a graduate coordinator and, two years later, was appointed to her current position, overseeing the gallery spaces – the Lionel Rombach and Joseph Gross galleries, and also the Graduate Gallery.
Today, Grucella maintains a year-round calendar full of exhibitions, receptions and special events in her work with students and faculty, and also with some artists who visit the UA. Grucella has worked with emergent and established American artists such as Liz Cohen, Dabs Myla, Josh Keyes, David Choong Lee and 2008 Guggenheim Fellow David Taylor, showcasing six to eight major exhibitions at the Joseph Gross Gallery each year.
"There aren't a lot of people in this state who are going to show some of the art that Brooke is because some move more toward traditional work," said Phoenix-based artist Emmett Potter who, with his wife, owns Squeeze Gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz. "You wouldn't get that kind of exposure to that kind of work unless you went to San Francisco, New York or London."
Julie Sasse, chief curator for the Tucson Museum of Art, also said she has been impressed with Grucella and her work.
"She brings in lot of artists I haven't seen before, and I am constantly going there saying, 'This is exciting, this is interesting, this is new,'" said Sasse, who also is pursuing a UA doctoral degree in art history. "It's a wonderful contribution to the community. I think she is very forward-thinking, and I love her ability to look at art from the standpoint of a younger person."
Because of her efforts, Grucella and the UA galleries have been spotlighted in publications, including the David B. Smith Gallery's 2011 limited edition publication of Gregory Euclide's artwork. Also, the galleries are participating in the regional Desert Initiative, a collaboration involving a range of institutions, organizations and agencies in projects around desert cultures and lands.
"She's attuned to not just one trend, but she looks at multiple media and approaches, at social and environmental concerns, finding a balance between disciplines and mediums," Sasse said. "I like that she's hitting a wide range of concerns for all of us. I look to her for fresh ideas."
Serving the UA's artistic community
While Grucella consistently lands contracts with nationally and internationally known artists to display their work at the Joseph Gross Gallery, she also advances the original mission of the gallery, which is to enable UA art students to present their work in a professional educational space.
Grucella believes supporting the professional development of the UA's art students is a hugely important part of what she does.
"Your work can’t be shown to the public without some type of public display," Grucella said. "Now I don’t mean to say that work can or should be shown exclusively in the traditional white wall spaces of a gallery, but for students to engage in both traditional and non-traditional exhibition spaces it greatly improves their skills in knowing how to carry themselves throughout the professional world."
Michael A. Farmer first showed his work in public at the Lionel Rombach Gallery during his first semester at the UA. And prior to graduating earlier this year with his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, he also participated in a group show. Farmer said that being able to work with other UA students alongside Grucella helped him gain an important understanding of gallery processes.
"I learned quickly it was not only a gallery for exhibition experience, but also a privilege shared with hard-working and ambitious students," said Farmer, whose program centered on two-dimensional studies with a focus on painting and printmaking. He has since begun a three-year graduate program in Texas.
Farmer noted a case in which Grucella collaborated with him and two of his peers – Clayton Z. Schwarder and Trevor O’Tool – to produce an exhibition the three students had envisioned. The show, "Dead, Missing, Capsized," came to fruition earlier this year and was on display at the Lionel Rombach Gallery in June 2012.
"From the proposal, to the application and finally the installation, Brooke makes sure artists are ready and able to put together an exhibition on their own terms but with a high polish of professional regard," Farmer said. "The Rombach Gallery can accessibly be an educational breakthrough for a student's first showing or solo exhibition. The next step after creating fine art is, of course, exhibiting fine art."
Farmer said he appreciates that Grucella works to ensure that a diversity of work and mediums are displayed at the galleries.
"I think this is important to building contemporary approaches in understanding today's methods of fine arts and as well how contemporary artists are handling the mediums of art's traditional past," Farmer said.
Making national, international connections for local benefit
Grucella said another important aspect of her work is in making connections with professional artists, providing them opportunities to share their work in a higher education setting while engaging in important discussions with UA students, faculty and staff.
A Southern California native, Grucella's own artwork is sharply centered on sociopolitical issues with a heavy reliance on urban aesthetics and graffiti art. She has shown her work across the U.S., in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C.
"Showing your work in a space such as ours garners a different audience and helps establish acknowledgement in academic settings," Grucella said. "Academia really looks to comprehend the concept, content, aesthetics and techniques, among many other items of an artist’s work, whereas that may not always be the case in commercial settings."
And it is especially important that students are engaged in that process, just as they are at the galleries.
"It is an educational space where we can push the boundaries to help the students to understand professionalism in the outside world," Grucella said. "We want to make sure that we are bringing the level of education up to a professional level so that our students are gaining the professional experience before they leave the University."
And she hopes the benefit extends beyond the student population.
"The gallery is really set up with the purpose of showcasing work to a wide range of public audiences," Grucella said.
"Having a connection to the contemporary issues we are dealing with on a state, regional, national and perhaps even international level is vital to the survival of the gallery," she added. "I'm hoping, and it is my intention, that all of Tucson gains something from having access to this space."