Richmond Art Center celebrates 75 years

The internationally renowned artist Richard Diebenkorn showed his drawings here.  Tom Marioni, the conceptual artist known for the One Second Sculpture, was a curator here. Jasper Johns, credited with paving the way for both Pop Art and Minimalism – and an intimate of Bob Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage — had his first West Coast show here.

For decades, the Richmond Art Center provided early exposure for artists ahead of the curve, many of whom went on to blossom nationally and internationally.

Now, the Art Center is celebrating its 75th anniversary with an exhibit featuring the artists who have graced its walls since the 1980s. The exhibit, “Beyond Tradition II,” follows an exhibit earlier this spring, which showcased the work of artists involved in the Center in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Art Center’s history is wound into the fabric of the city itself. It began in 1936 with a WPA grant to local dynamo Hazel Salmi to run art classes for locals, and became such a central part of the city’s identity that it was incorporated into the design of the Civic Center in the mid-‘40s, and remains just steps from City Hall.

Though no longer the center of civic life or the Bay Area art scene that it once was, the Richmond Art Center continues to combine exhibition and education, training hundreds of students each year in everything from screen-printing to metal work to textiles weaving.

The current show runs the gamut from Tony DeLap’s minimalist Bagno from 1969 –- a single curving line on paper –- to Alan Chin’s 2011 untitled installation: an explosion of pink paint and wild, exhilarating scribbles in orange, blue, and green dominating the Center’s entrance. At its center is a gold-splashed ceramic dog, licking its chops. Visitors can get face to face with Al Honig’s whimsical droid-like couple, Mr. Box (1987) and Ms. Box (1989), while, in the corner, a series of eyes move restlessly against a black background in Alan Rath’s Black Eyes II (2009).

The exhibit, curated by Anthony Pinata and Emily Anderson, officially opens Saturday, with an artists’ reception from 2-4 p.m. From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. the Center will hold a benefit reunion, with live music, a barbecue, art activities and studio tours. Admission is $10.

The reunion is part of the Art Center’s “Partnership in the Arts” fundraising campaign. The Center has received a matching challenge grant of $25,000 from an anonymous Richmond-based donor and is aiming to raise $100,000 by the end of September.

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