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At Work: The Art of California Labor

College of Creative Arts


Ariane Bicho, Publicist
College of Creative Arts
San Francisco State University
(415) 338-1442
(415) 338-0520 fax

Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


Two SF exhibits and a companion book are the first to trace the rich history and recent trends of California labor art.
Show opens: San Francisco State University, Saturday, September 6, 1-4 p.m.

San Francisco, July 17, 2003 - Many Californians are aware of San Francisco's 1934 General Strike, but probably few realize to what degree labor movements shaped the state's political and social climate. Even fewer know of the copious art which both inspired and reflected California's labor struggles throughout the 20th century.

“There was a time when many of the most prominent artists in California made art about labor,” explains Mark D. Johnson, professor of art at San Francisco State University. A mid-century backlash, however, including the persecution of labor sympathizers in the McCarthy era, has all but erased from public memory the very “vast and compelling” art surrounding the labor movements, he says. Collaborating with arts, history and labor organizations, Johnson has helped organize an important new exhibition to recover that spirited history as well as recognize today’s artists who deal with labor themes.

Gathering more than 100 recent and historical pieces, At Work: The Art of California Labor is the first major show to survey the vast range of California labor art in the past century. At Work includes two collaborative exhibits, one at San Francisco State University and the other at the California Historical Society; a lavishly illustrated book; and a series of lectures and special events.

Compelling recent works are the focus of the show in the Fine Arts Gallery on the SFSU campus. The exhibit, running from Tuesday, Sept. 2 through Saturday, Oct. 11, features works by contemporary and conceptual artists including Hung Liu, Sebastiao Salgado, Larry Sultan, and Allan Sekula. An opening reception is Saturday, Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Fine Arts Gallery. Preceding the reception, at 1 p.m. in the August Coppola Theatre, is a panel featuring noted artists Sergio de la Torre, Yolanda Lopez and Allan Sekula moderated by Daniell Cornell, associate curator of American art at San Francisco's de Young Museum. Admission is free.

Showcasing historical works from 1900 to 1970 (including the Chicano arts movement), the second exhibit opens at the California Historical Society on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1, and runs through Saturday, Dec. 20.

For more information on both venues and related public programs, please visit

A companion book, At Work: The Art of California Labor (California Historical Society Press and Heyday Books, Fall 2003), edited by SFSU art professor Mark D. Johnson, presents numerous color plates from the exhibit along with commentary by eminent artists and scholars.

At Work: The Art of California Labor is organized by the California Historical Society, California Labor Federation AFL-CIO, SF Labor Council and San Francisco State University. Major funding for At Work was generously provided by the James Irvine Foundation, The Walter and Elise Haas Fund and San Francisco State University.

Gallery Information and Parking
Admission to the contemporary perspective of At Work: The Art of California Labor is free.
Gallery hours are as follows: noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; open late Wednesdays until 7 p.m. The Fine Arts Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building on the SFSU campus, 19th and Holloway avenues, San Francisco.

Public parking is available in Lot 20 on the SFSU campus, accessed from Lake Merced Boulevard between Winston Drive and Font Boulevard. Parking is $1 per hour with a $5 daily maximum. Nearby on-street parking is readily available on weekends. For more information, please visit and

The Fine Arts Gallery operates under the direction of the Art Department, College of Creative Arts, at San Francisco State University. The college has the only academic program primarily devoted to the creative arts in northern California. SFSU is a highly diverse, comprehensive, public and urban university. For information about the College of Creative Arts, visit


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Last modified July 24, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs