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The Sesnon Gallery’s Louise Leong Prepares for Epic Exhibitions

Louise Leong

Louise Leong, the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery manager and museum preparator, has recently experienced what she calls her “World Series” of exhibitions on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Supervising the delivery of 44 crates filled with priceless artworks that came to her via two, 53-foot tractor trailers, was no small feat. 

It was the beginning of a lot of hard work leading to the opening of Strange Weather and Glenn Ligon, concurrent exhibitions at both the Museum of Art History (MAH) in downtown Santa Cruz, and at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at Porter College at UC Santa Cruz. In addition, Leong was managing the installation of the 2022 Irwin Scholars preview show which opened on the same day, April 14, 2022.

“As a printmaker, I was especially excited to work with an exhibition of predominantly prints to examine the varied techniques so closely,” said Leong. “The first crate that we opened contained three of Julie Mehretu'sgorgeous multilayered prints employing multiple printmaking and mark making techniques. She is one of my favorites. Her work is so powerful and evocative even in their abstraction, especially those three prints which were made in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

Strange Weather brings together works by influential artists from the 20th and 21st centuries that creatively illuminate and reframe the boundaries of bodies and the environment. The group exhibition draws from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation in Portland, Oregon, and is organized by UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) in collaboration with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH).

As the many pieces arrived, Leong inspected them all, logged in their condition, and worked with many experts to make the exhibition happen.

Says Leong of the arduous process: “Opening exhibitions require interfacing with highly skilled professionals including conservators, art installation crews, curators, exhibition directors, preparator teams, fine art shippers, collections managers, lighting designers, display fabricators, woodworkers, carpenters, painters, sign makers, and graphic designers, just to list off some of the people that I personally worked with for Strange Weather and Glenn Ligon. The result of all of these minds meeting is an astounding exhibition that is sure to be a Santa Cruz blockbuster.”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Leong spent her teenage years in San Mateo before moving to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC where she earned a BA in Art, specializing in studio art. She is a printmaker and illustrator, having exhibited her work internationally as well is in Santa Cruz and throughout the Bay Area. 

She’s also taught art workshops at UCSC, Youth Now! in Watsonville, and with the Prison Arts Project at the Santa Cruz County Jail. “My art practice is driven by a slice of life aesthetic, depicting the mundane, and finding humor in everything.”

As Leong contemplates the Strange Weather exhibition, she is especially drawn to Strange Number 215B, the immense Leonardo Drew installation, and Alison Saar's life-sized bronze sculpture, Grow’d, calling them “must-sees.”

“Glenn Ligon's End of Year Reports on view at the Sesnon Gallery is my favorite in our campus exhibition,” says Leong. “It's a suite of eight screen prints that are facsimiles of his elementary school teacher reports. End of Year Reports offers powerful insights into the societal expectations and presumptions which accompany conceptions of race imposed on Ligon even as a child. Aside from the content of the work, as a materials and technique nerd (but aren't all printmakers?), I'm also drawn to the process in which the reports were recreated.”

For true print nerds, Leong encourages viewers to inspect the chop marks on the various prints and to try and identify the artist presses that produced each print.

Another campus community event that she’s particularly enjoyed are the Third Thursday Sesnon Salons, initiated by the Arts Division’s Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu. Dean Celine and the Arts Division welcome UCSC students, faculty and staff to come together throughout the academic year for salon-style gatherings presenting the work of the Arts Division's academic departments. 

“The Sesnon Salons have been a lovely way to reintegrate community into the physical gallery spaces after being apart for so long,” says Leong. “It's given us all a chance to meet faculty, staff and students in different disciplines and get a brief sampling of the talent and expertise that the Arts Division has to offer.”

Working with and mentoring students has proven to be the best part of working at UCSC for her and she loves being able to support her gallery students and teach them valuable skills. “I owe so much to my own teachers and mentors,” she says. “Their generosity and care have always stayed with me. It is very fulfilling to continue that and be that person for others.”