‘Los Angeles Sees Itself’ and its ever-changing art landscape

Art students dive deeper into LA art scene to curate an on-campus exhibition for fall 2023.


Haven Luper-Jasso//CHIMES

Art students’ “LA Sees Itself” exhibition aims to connect themes throughout art history such as beach, car, suburban, astronomy and architecture culture.

Fashion Castillo-Delgadillo, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Art students frequently spend countless hours working within their art studios and learning from their professors in the classroom. However, art students are currently working alongside Biola’s newest Visionary in Residence, distinguished artist and PrjctLA art gallery owner, Carl Berg, in a completely donor-funded project titled “Los Angeles Sees Itself.”  


Only a short drive from the robust art scene within Los Angeles, art students have spent the spring and fall semesters researching Los Angeles art culture, visiting Los Angeles art studios, and compiling artwork for an on-campus exhibition coming this upcoming fall 2023 semester. 

The project is completely donor-funded from the Wong Family Foundation and has allowed students to work in relation to Carl Berg as the newest art department Visionary in Residence. In doing so, the art department developed a class in which students have the opportunity to gain experience curating artwork for galleries and publish a digital art catalog in collaboration with Berg. 

“What [faculty] have heard [students] describe is that they’ve been excited about being at Biola because of its relationship to this major art community, and faculty are part of that community, but they have always felt a kind of distance,” said art professor Dan Callis. “Now, [students] feel like they’re part of the LA art scene and they’re understanding where they’re going. They’re understanding the larger conversations that are going on in the LA art world.”  

Starting in the fall 2022 semesters, a group of five art students — junior studio art major Ella Buell, junior art major Kristen Kim, senior studio art Molly Pederson, senior studio art major Bea McCormick and senior studio art major Grace Lesueur — gathered together to meet with PrjctLA art gallery owner Carl Berg. Art professors — Astri Swendsrud, Dan Callis and Daniel Chang — are working alongside and guiding students as they delve deeper into the rich art history in Los Angeles. 

“The idea is [the class] provides a whole bunch of really cool curricular enrichment for students to work on [projects with public outcomes] in a publication exhibition,” said chair of the art department Jonathan Puls. “Give [students] a taste of all those professional kinds of outcomes but also, get in touch with the rich history of contemporary art in Southern California that [Carl Berg has] been a player in.”


Based around the Los Angeles art scene, the exhibition, “Los Angeles Sees Itself,” takes a look at art history from the last 50 to 60 years and breaks down various “ecosystems” specific to Los Angeles art culture. 

“We’re basically looking at LA through the lens of LA artists that are making work that follows the lineage of those original artists that made LA what it is,” said Ella Buell, junior art major. “That’s kind of broken down into a couple different ecosystems. We’ve got car culture, beach culture, suburban culture, astronomy, architecture, [etc.]” 

As this project started, students plunged into research with Berg, thus beginning the long process of creating a digital art catalog that will be published and presented to various museums locally and internationally. The catalog features 36 artists that students hope to bring to Biola in the fall 2023 semester to present a two-part gallery within the Earl Green gallery and the Bardwell art space. Focusing on the student research and creation of the gallery in Bardwell and a larger exhibition in conjunction with Carl Berg in the Earl Green gallery space. 

“Carl Berg, who is an LA based curator and gallerist, is coming alongside our art department to work with our students on developing a curatorial project,” said Swendsrud. “The biggest, most public outcome of the project is going to be an exhibition that will take place in the Green gallery on campus, opening in the fall of 2023.”

At the end of the fall semester, students put together an exhibition titled “Zones” in dedication to their first five categories of research — environment, cars, tattoo, memory, and western/ranch culture. This spring they added to their research by looking at beach/city culture, mountain/desert landscape, astronomy/architecture, and aerospace/cars. The “Zones” installation took place in the Bardwell project space and compiled all of their research through a display of QR codes. 


In addition to working directly with Carl Berg during zoom meetings, the class also visited his art space, PrjctLA, in Los Angeles along with other Los Angeles based artists. In their most recent endeavor, they took a studio trip to visit Los Angeles based artist and musician Senon Williams. Students, along with professors, noted how this experience was beneficial to the learning process for current art students. 

“Sometimes it’s easy to think of the artists as these big name people, that do these really incredible things, that are not super approachable, like celebrities almost. But then you meet them, you’re like, ‘Oh, we’re all the same’,” said Buell. 

After attending the studio, Buell explained how it was comforting speaking with other working professionals as they create art for gallery exhibitions. 

“That was actually pretty comforting in a lot of ways,” said Buell. “Like not everybody knows what they’re doing all the time, but we figured it out and interesting things happen without us trying and that’s really what art in general is all about in a lot of ways.”

Prior to the visit, Swendsrud noted that studio visits and working with Berg allows students to gain experience in the art world with a more hands-on approach. 

“I think it can sometimes seem like a really intimidating [field] to enter, and I hope that the students are finding that it’s not as scary as they might think, [and] it’s not as distant as they might think,” said Swendsrud. “I really hope that this kind of energy and connection to the real world of art as it’s happening right here, where we are, it’s something that can carry into future years and future semesters.”


Currently, the class has expanded to include a total of nine students, adding four students to the original five that were in the class in the spring semester. Buell, who has been a student in the class for both the fall 2022 and spring 2023 semester, noted some of the challenges that she has encountered in the class being an out-of-state student. 

“It’s kind of chaotic, but it’s also a wonderful adventure,” said Buell. “I’m from Texas, which is not only out of state and out of LA, but a pretty vastly different cultural environment as well… so coming in and doing this in depth research project on a city that I’m pretty new to and I live in the suburbs, has been really challenging.”

With this being a primarily self driven research project on the students’ behalf, meeting in classes to share their knowledge about their assigned topics and ecosystems has been extremely beneficial towards seeing how this project will eventually come to fruition. 

“So far, it’s felt more like individual research and individual thoughts which has been really interesting and kind of cool to be able to hear from other people’s perspectives [during class sessions],” said Buell.

However, since adding new students to the class, she feels that they have reinvigorated class energy and provided new perspectives that the students from the previous semester had not originally thought about. 

“It’s been really good to have fresh insight, new minds and different perspectives [since those of us] who have been working in Carl’s mindset for the last semester, have certain things that grab our attention,” said Buell. “[Now] we have people that have their own ideas too, so it’s cool to have new ideas, new motivation and energy.”


Not only has this class expanded to impact additional students, but it appears to be impacting other majors and future students as well. Within the School of Fine Arts and Communications, senior journalism major Stephanie Guevara visited PrjctLA art spaces to observe an interview between Hilary Baker and Carl Berg as her artwork was on display.

Callis and Swendsrud explained that the exhibition on campus will allow for students to learn from their artists on display in the gallery and the class will also act as a model structure for future classes with similar outcomes. 

“[The exhibition] is going to have a long run intentionally and we’re going to be inviting the artists that are in that show, to come throughout the semester and do class lectures and studio visits with students. So all the art department students will be getting the benefits from the show because these artists will be coming and interacting with students,” said Callis. 

“Seeing the way this has brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm and just new experiences to our students, we really hope this is a model that, even if we’re not working directly with Carl, we can integrate into future classes or departmental experiences,” said Swendsrud.

The final exhibitions are currently planned to be on display in the Green Art Gallery and Bardwell Project space the month of September for students to view on campus. The Green Art Gallery will primarily be a space for the work that the students did with Carl Berg and the Bardwell Project Gallery will allow students to display their research and the compilation of the gallery. The project hopes to bring in a total of 36 different LA-based artists that are representative of Los Angeles culture over the past few decades. 

“I think sometimes it can be easy for art history or even contemporary art to seem kind of like this academic thing,” Swendsrud said. “But really all that it takes to be part of the contemporary art world is to show up, to be present, to be making, to be curious, to be asking questions, and finding ways to become engaged.”

This article first appeared in print on May 1, 2023 in the Chimes Magazine Vol. 2, Issue 4 edition.

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