Professor and Former Student Team Up for Exhibition

Lucy Puls, UC Davis art professor, and UC Davis art graduate Liv Moe, at Verge arts center
Lucy Puls and Liv Moe at Verge

Ask Lucy Puls about her exhibition at the Verge Center for the Arts in Sacramento and she’ll instead start talking about the center’s director, Liv Moe, who studied with Puls.

“Everyone has a little group of students who are the best students and she was one of those,” said Puls, who has been a professor at UC Davis since 1985. “I have a huge amount of respect for her. What she’s doing is really important and she’s doing it at a high level.”

Moe got involved with Verge not long after it opened in 2008 and ended up guiding it to a new level as a non-profit with a large renovated gallery showing adventuresome art.

Moe knew she wanted a major Puls’ exhibition at the new Verge. 

“I wondered why a bigger examination of her work hadn’t started happening yet,” Moe said. “We had the opportunity to do that.”

“Lucy Puls: [just you]” is the most significant showing of Puls work in Sacramento in several decades. While not a true retrospective – nearly all the 40 works are from the past five years - the exhibition still covers several decades.

“We had to find a way to make sense of 30 years of work with a limited number of pieces,” Puls said.

The exhibition starts with a 1987 steel and fiberglass sculpture that Puls hadn’t seen since she put it into storage not long after making it. The exhibition then jumps forward a decade to objects – books, 45-rpm records – encased in resin. Forward another decade to sculptures incorporating printed fabric, cardboard boxes, photographs used as sculptural elements, old stereos and plumbing parts. The newest work continues using photographs as sculptural elements, the surfaces altered with paint or powdered metal. The shapes in the latest pieces frequently echo the shape of the 1987 sculpture.

The old books, records and stereos came from thrift stores or the roadside and many photographs were taken at homes left vacant by the housing crisis.

“Like an amateur detective, she sought out the objects that society once cherished and then … decided to reject,” writes exhibition curator Dena Beard in the exhibition catalog, continuing, “Puls’ images reveal these uninhabited houses as containers of memory …”

Although the exhibition contains a relatively small amount of Puls’ output, she feels it gives a good sense of her intentions and aims.

“People need to understand how I got from making sculpture to doing work that looks like it might be photography and to see the connection of the work through geometry,” Puls said. “I believe this exhibition succeeds in doing that.”

Puls’ art has been shown internationally including at the Jewish Museum in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and is the collections of both, and for many years at the now-closed Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco.

Moe wanted Puls at the gallery because of the quality of her art and her artistic reputation, but also to honor Puls’ wide-reaching impact as a teacher.

Moe came to UC Davis as a transfer student from community college and was immediately challenged in a good way.

“At Davis I was around people who were professionals and it completely changed my work,” said Moe, who went on to earn a master’s degree in art from California State University, Sacramento. “These were very competitive classes that challenged me to expand my knowledge of art and really reach to keep up with my peers.”

After grad school Moe got a studio at Verge, which was then a private gallery and studio complex. In 2010, Moe became director and Verge moved to its current location at S and 7th streets. It houses nearly 40 artists studios as well as a gallery.

The center was closed to the public for four years while Moe and others organized the center as a non-profit, purchased and renovated the building, and raised money. She took on jobs like fund raising and creating education programs that she never thought she would like or be good at. She credits Puls with giving her the tools to accomplish such tasks.

“Lucy has had such a huge impact on so many people in the region,” Moe said. “She influenced our critical thinking and creative problem solving skill on any kind of project. I don’t think I’d be doing this job if I hadn’t gone to UC Davis.”

The exhibition runs through Oct. 25. Verge is at 625 S St. 

Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science