, an exhibition currently on display at the University of California’s , is a triple play.
Combining the spectacular work of artists from Richmond’s National Institute of Art and Disabilities (NIAD), Oakland’s , and San Francisco’s Creativity Explored, the show includes over 135 works by twenty artists.
Underlining the artists’ considerable talent and range lies a fitting tribute to the extraordinary contributions of Florence Ludins-Katz and her husband, Elias Katz. The Katzes established the three art centers and with them, transformed Bay area attitudes towards artists with disabilities. The impact has reverberated throughout the arts scene and is evident beyond singular exhibits like the one at BAM.
“I walk as fast as I can,” said Andrés Cisneros-Galindo about his responsibilities as a studio manager and head teacher at NIAD, where he mentors other artists. Cisneros-Galindo holds degrees in both art and psychology and has been with the art center since 1984.
He is a master storyteller and there’s a spark in his eye as he continues. “I pick up garbage, stretch canvases, and ask people to behave…” he said, managing to sound mysterious.
His own art, which he describes with humility and humor, has followed a trajectory from oil paints to printmaking to sculpture.
“My favorite art store is the railroad tracks,” he confessed. “I find textured woods for printmaking, electrical components, all kinds of material.”
Working eight hours a day with the artists at NIAD means Cisneros-Galindo understands the value of art to a community that traditionally has been isolated.
“The more disabled you are, the more detached you are from the world; the more the art is pulling out your own inner you,” he said. “Art will re-define a person.”
The evidence is in the galleries at BAM.
Fears of Your Life, 1995, by Michael Bernard Loggins, is a massive, floor-to ceiling wall, covered with handwritten notes.
“Fear of rolling down Hill Backward,” reads one. Leaning back to see the inscriptions, a viewer shares the sensation with the artist.
Mary Belknap’s dense, felt-tip marker patterns also suggest movement. The tight weave of wild color and square patterning miraculously zooms the eye—with dizzying affect—to the center of Untitled, 2010.
A progression, made obvious by the curator’s decision to display several works spanning a number of years by each artist, reveals James Miles’ droll wit, honed to minimalist perfection. Simple, singular images are placed impeccably on mat board: the art is in the editing, as much as in the rendering.
It’s appropriate that the labels accompanying the works do not identify the artists by disability, except within the overall description of the exhibition. Which begs the question: Must these artists carry the label “disabled” at all?
“It shouldn’t be used,” Cisneros-Galindo said, “but it has to be used as a first step to be more inclusive. Then, those tags should be left off—fade away.”
NIAD Gallery Manager Brian Stechschulte agrees with Cisneros-Galindo, but is grateful for the visibility, saying, “We’ve been exhibited before, but it’s different when a museum of this stature gives a nod to our artists.”
Cisneros-Galindo, whose first artistic explorations came out of a chamber pot and were, thankfully, redirected by his mother, laughs gently at the irony of how he began and where he now practices his art.
With quiet dignity, he finds the words to summarize his thoughts on Create: “Everything has a purpose. Cultural vestiges are a part of all artwork. These artists feel their self-esteem lifted up, whenever their work is shown. Everyone has the ability to create.”