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Egghead tour offers original music and art

March 15, 2013

Yin & Yang, Robert Arneson's sculpture duo of two Eggheads, with one talking at the other, which is lying on its ear

Robert Arneson, one of UC Davis' most famous art professors, installed Yin & Yang in front of Wright Hall at the UC Davis art complex in 1992. In all, Arneson created seven Eggheads at five sites for the campus. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photo)

Members of the St. Louis Symphony will perform original works composed by University of California, Davis, music faculty today as they stroll among the iconic “Egghead” sculptures on campus. The virtual progressive dinner of music and art will also illustrate the university’s longtime role in fostering creation of original work.

“The Eggheads are an important visual feature on the Davis campus, and this event brings together three major elements of the university around a very original and highly creative idea: the strong tradition in the visual arts and Robert Arneson (the Egghead sculptor who taught at UC Davis for four decades), the Mondavi Center, and the Department of Music,” said Pablo Ortiz, one of five faculty composers whose work will be featured. Ortiz, the Jan and Beta Popper Professor in Opera and a longtime advocate of public access to opera, symphony and other music, said the Egghead walk “brings together UC Davis’ glorious past and everything we have today.”

Beginning at 2 p.m. at the “See No Evil/Hear No Evil” Egghead sculpture on the south side of Mrak Hall and across from King Hall (School of Law), the musicians and audience will proceed in turn to each of the five remaining Egghead sculptures on campus. The concert will conclude about 3 p.m. with a reception at the final Egghead location.

UC Davis’ Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts is hosting the three-day residency with the St. Louis Symphony — one of the nation’s oldest and best-known orchestras. Other St. Louis Symphony activities include a school matinee performance for students from area schools, master classes, a side-by-side rehearsal with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, free performances at various locations in Davis and Sacramento, and a performance at the Crocker Art Museum on Sunday, March 17, at 3 p.m. All activities lead up to the final performance with the full St. Louis Symphony on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Mondavi Center.

“If you think of the statues you see on many university campuses, they are usually serious and solemn and noble,” said Don Roth, executive director of the Mondavi Center and former executive director and president of the St. Louis Symphony. “There is something very ‘Davis’ about the Eggheads — truly great art, but with a bit of a smile and a wink."

“I knew the work of this great Davis artist would be inspiring to our wonderful UC Davis composers,” Roth said.

Each of them — Ortiz, Ross Bauer, Sam Nichols, Mika Pelo, Kurt Rohde and Laurie San Martin — composed a work of three to five minutes in length for the event.

The composers make up a rich music composition faculty and curriculum at UC Davis, with five faculty composers, one conductor composer and one lecturer-composer (Nichols). A composition graduate student, Will Cooper, won the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Foundation top award, the Leo Kaplan Award, in the 2012 Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.

At the same time, UC Davis and its ceramic sculptors are known for much more than the series of bald heads that dot the campus. “During his lifetime, Robert Arneson was the epicenter of an earthquake that helped shift the foundation of the art world and brought the medium of ceramic sculpture into the mainstream artistic realm,” said Annabeth Rosen, ceramic sculptor and holder of the UC Davis Robert Arneson Chair in Ceramic Sculpture.

In the 1960s, when Arneson came to campus, ceramic art forms were known for being functional — pots, vases, plates and tiles. But Arneson and others at the time began experimenting with everyday objects — even toilets and soda bottles — to create art that later became known as “Funk Art.” His work and that of his contemporaries is found at museums throughout the world.

Prominent alumni of the program include David Gilhooly, a “Funk” ceramic sculptor and student of Arneson known among other things for his depictions of frogs and other animals; Kathy Butterly, winner of the 2012 Smithsonian American Art Museum's 10th Contemporary Artist Award; and Dutch artist Nelleke Beltjens.

 Many aspire to join the group of distinguished alumni. The UC Davis Art Studio Program for the master’s degree in fine arts, which includes ceramics and other studio arts, receives 75 to 120 applications a year for fewer than 10 spots.

“UC Davis has been and continues to be an unparalleled studio space for students to work and learn,” Rosen said. “Not only the extensive facility itself, but the contagious energy that the students generate and the idea that anything can happen here, allows all manner of experimentation to take place.”

Rosen praised the opportunities Davis provides for students to be exposed to the arts: “The arts in education are vital to the institution’s thriving, rich and stimulating daily life. Inasmuch that it may not just be the art and music classes one takes, but a way of looking, a way of understanding, as a means to grasp a better sense of the world around us.”

For a map of the Egghead Walking Tour visit http://www.mondaviarts.org/eggheadwalk.

Each of the venues, in order, with the name of the accompanying work and the composer, are:

  • “See No Evil/Hear No Evil,” in the traffic circle by King Hall — Two Eggheads, one piece of music: “hear no evil … after Arneson, Bach and Copland,” by Kurt Rohde
  • “Eye on Mrak,” on the north side of Mrak Hall — “Night Music,” by Mika Pelo
  • “Bookhead,” in front of Peter J. Shields Library — “Tiny Font,” by Laurie San Martin
  • “Yin & Yang,” in front of Wright Hall — Two Eggheads, two pieces of music: “The Fleeting Yin of the Motive,” by Pablo Ortiz (for the Egghead that is upright and speaking, with eyes closed); and “Both Sides,” by Ross Bauer (for the Egghead that is lying on its side with the back of its head facing the speaker)
  • “Stargazer,” east of North Hall and south of Young Hall — “Portrait of the Artist” (detail), by Sam Nichols.

The St. Louis Symphony residency is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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