CHANCELL-ING: A 2020 Vision of Art and Creativity

Wayne Thiebaud speaks in front of two of his paintings.
Wayne Thiebaud donated four works of art to the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art in 2016, including “Three Treats” and “Unfinished Portrait of Betty Jean,” seen here. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and you’re feeling ready to take on 2020.

Logo for Chancell-ing column

‏But one thing I know about 2020 is this: It’s going to be an especially artful year on campus and around the city, from visual arts to music, theater and so much more.

‏One of the year’s biggest highlights will happen in the fall. On Nov. 15, Wayne Thiebaud turns 100 years old and the art world’s spotlight will be right here on Davis.

Thiebaud’s the painter behind such celebrated works as “Bakery Counter” and “Display Cakes” — masterful oil paintings where the frosting actually looks good enough to eat. His work encourages us to see our world in a more textural light, where commonplace objects like desserts and gumball machines can ascend to profound and iconic heights.

‏Thiebaud is undoubtedly a giant of modern art. How big? Consider that one of his paintings sold recently for $3.22 million.

‏But you can’t put a price tag on the admiration we feel for Thiebaud at UC Davis. He was among the founding faculty in our art department, a celebrated bunch that included Robert Arneson — the sculptor who created the signature “Eggheads” you see on campus — along with William Wiley, Roland Petersen, Roy De Forest and other acclaimed talents.

‏Thiebaud taught generations of art students over three decades at UC Davis, from 1960 through 1991. We’re grateful that he remains deeply connected to us. He’s been a generous donor to our Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, having donated 72 of his own works, and 300 by other artists.

‏How fortunate we are to have Thiebaud’s artistry and influence felt throughout the Manetti Shrem Museum, a space with free admission for all to enjoy.

Performances and events tie community together

‏And right across the street, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts brings world-class performances to Davis throughout the year. It’s another key space where our campus life connects with the wider community, a space full of artistry, dialogue and expression.

‏Its upcoming calendar is full of must-see shows, such as the legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman (Jan. 11), the celebrated a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Feb. 15) and an evening with the master satirist David Sedaris (May 13).

‏This rich fabric of artistry extends throughout the city. And that’s one of the benefits of living in Davis, a place that values creativity and bringing community together in the name of art.

‏The creative spark around Davis is hard to miss. You feel this sense during the Second Friday ArtAbout, a free art walk each month through downtown where galleries and other businesses open their doors wide for art installations and activities.

You feel that artistic spirit at the Davis Craft & Vintage Fair, which runs on selected Sundays throughout the year at Central Park. It’s not only an opportunity to rub elbows with your neighbors, but to shop and appreciate the craftsmanship of local artists.

‏Meanwhile, the Davis Art Center at Community Park remains a hub of creativity and education. It’s full of classes for all ages, including acrylic painting, ceramic arts, writing and portrait drawing. Who knows? Maybe the next Wayne Thiebaud is somewhere in this mix.

‏Speaking of which, the celebrations for Thiebaud will stretch into the following year. The Manetti Shrem Museum will mount a major exhibition about Thiebaud’s influence on 21st century painters starting in January 2021. It will be part of a season that celebrates Thiebaud’s centennial birthday and his legacy of teaching.

‏Put it all together, and we have a wealth of art and expression to experience in the coming months. Here’s to a fruitful and creative 2020 for all!

Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column appears first in The Davis Enterprise and then in Dateline UC Davis.

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