This is one of those biographical moments, when you look at Robert Hausey’s contest-winning abstract painting and you know the paintings that will follow.
Because you’re looking at the beginning of a story here. Hausey was a graduate student when he painted this piece in 1970. He entered it in the LSU Student Union Art Gallery’s student art show, and he won top prize.
The painting, “Window Landscape,” now is a part of the gallery’s permanent collection, some of which are on exhibit in the gallery’s summer show.
The gallery has more than 300 pieces in the collection, and there’s no way all of the artwork could fit at one time. Besides, some of the collection hangs throughout the Union. And when these pieces leave the gallery after the show, they, too, will be placed elsewhere in the building.
That includes the piece by Hausey, whose professional career would earn him national acclaim. He returned to LSU in 1977, where he taught until his death in 2009.
His painting in the gallery could be used as a reference point for the beginning of his story, though it isn’t the painting that begins the show.
No, this show begins with an artist’s proof of a Robert Gordy print and continues with a diverse selection of local artists mixed with such iconic names as Robert Raschenberg.
Yes, there is a Rauschenberg print in this show, as well as a piece by surrealist artist Man Ray.
The names that follow also are impressive: Elemore Morgan Sr., Charles Barbier, Sam Corso, Carolyn Durieux, Malika Favorite, Marc Fresh, Jonathan Meyers, Christopher Smith, Ryan Jetter, Jim Zietz and Harvey Harris.
It’s all a part of the gallery’s collection, whose history can be traced back to Carl Maddox.
Yes, the former LSU track coach. Maddox was named director of the Union when it opened in 1964. Maddox appointed an art committee to make aesthetic decisions for the building.
Serving on the committee were design faculty member Don Bruce, painting instructor Tom Cavanaugh and Robert Heck, head of the LSU School of Architecture. They combined to select art that reflected the building’s modernism.
Don Phillips followed Maddox as the second director of the LSU Student Union and was a supporter of an aesthetic philosophy.
“He believed that students learned about art by having it around them,” Judi Stahl said. “By exposing them to artistic works, both in the building and in the gallery, we encourage our students, as well as our visitors, to think about the pieces that surrounds them.”
Stahl has been the Student Union Art Gallery’s director since 1973.
Stahl later led a short tour through the Union, unlocking doors to show paintings that were specifically chosen for meeting rooms. Most of these paintings have been restored and reframed.
“You don’t realize the effect things like cigarette smoke has on paintings until they’re cleaned,” Stahl said. “There was a time when smoking was allowed in the building and during meetings. The elements from the cigarette smoke covered up things in some of the paintings over the years.”
But the Union’s interior recently has been remodeled, so artwork has been cleaned and re-hung to reflect the new space.
That includes the wooden sculpture “Four Tigers,” which now hangs in the Magnolia Room. The original art committee commissioned Robert Wiggs to create it. Wiggs was a young art faculty member at LSU at the time. The piece is at least 6 feet long and depicts four abstract tigers.
“If you stand back, you can see the tigers,” Stahl said. “This hung in the Royal Cotillion Ballroom for years. It was placed high above the door, so no one ever really noticed it. It wasn’t originally supposed to hang there, but it was moved there. Now, we have it in the Magnolia Room, where people can see it while they’re dining.”
This reflects Phillips’ idea of educating students by surrounding them with artwork. If there’s any question as to whether this philosophy has worked through the years, ask current LSU Student Union Director Shirley Plakidas.
“They remember the artwork after they’ve graduated,” she said. “They come back and comment on how much they miss the gallery. The students take it for granted while they’re here. They have a place that’s accessible to them, a place they can see all of this great artwork for free.”
But after graduation, they find themselves in a world where artwork may not be so plentiful in the workplace.
Some alumni have even told Plakidas stories about how they’ve become regular visitors to art museums because of the Union’s impact.
“They miss visiting the Union Art Gallery so much that they started visiting museums,” Plakidas said.
“And LSU is fortunate, because not all universities have art galleries. Some may have space within a union, where they might hang artwork. But not all have what we have here at LSU.”
So now, through the gallery’s current show, students and visitors have a chance to preview what will be hanging throughout the building. When thinking about it, this is sort of like looking at the Hausey painting.
The exhibit is biographical. Though you know how the story ends, you’re standing in the beginning. And you’re traveling through time, when the collection was built through commissioned and purchased pieces, rare prints that were given to the Union in exchange for hosting print shows and donations.
Then there are those pieces that were created through gallery-hosted events. Take the doors, for example. Yes, doors.
The gallery hosted local artists in a one-day painting event. The artists were given doors on which to create their work while students watched.
The doors now belong in the collection and are on display in this show.
“We’ll have to be careful about where we hang the artwork in the building,” Stahl said. “We don’t want them in direct sunlight, but there are some strategic spots we can put them.”
The gallery is still adding to its collection, which means the story doesn’t end here.
It’s to be continued.