Exhibit showcases work of Charles Arnoldi

“Charles Arnoldi | Four Decades,” courtesy of the Schnitzer Family Foundation, will be on view at the USC Fisher Museum of Art until April 4. (Emily Sagen | Daily Trojan)

It’s summer at the USC Fisher Museum of Art as bold colors take over in a new exhibition. The monumental abstractions of renowned Venice Beach artist Charles “Chuck” Arnoldi invite viewers to think outside the box and paint outside the lines. 

The “Charles Arnoldi | Four Decades” exhibition opened to the public Tuesday at the museum, featuring the innovative and abstract works of Arnoldi over the span of his nearly 50-year career.

Arnoldi’s abstractions are permanent fixtures in more than 45 museums across the United States, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. USC will host more than two dozen Arnoldi paintings and sculptures in the museum until April 4. Each work was handpicked by curator Bruce Guenther from the holdings of the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation, which includes 200 pieces by Arnoldi.

This is the first time the foundation has lent a part of its collection to the Fisher Museum. For Schnitzer, director of the foundation, the Arnoldi exhibition hits close to home in both a literal and figurative sense. 

“What I tell people about art is ‘feel it, don’t think it,’” he said. “The first time I saw [Arnoldi’s] work 20, 25 years ago, I didn’t have to think about what it is. I just thought, ‘God, is this good.’ And I’ve not stopped collecting his work ever since.” 

Provost Dr. Charles “Chip” Zukoski agreed, deeming Arnoldi’s art to be an important educational tool. 

“Visual literacy, the ability to see patterns and color, to connect the observations to emotions and ideas that cannot be expressed in words… [is] an important part of being an educated member of our society,” Zukoski said. “The work of Charles Arnoldi is, for me, arresting, startling and ables me to see connections and patterns both within the art and when I look away at the … environment around me.” 

The exhibition tracks Arnoldi’s authenticity in many manifestations over the years, from acrylic on canvas to his famous branchwork to cast bronze sculptures. Schnitzer considered the integration of Arnoldi’s diverse portfolio to be an important characteristic of the exhibition. To him, Arnoldi’s natural evolution was crucial to his success as an artist. 

“What I like about [Arnoldi’s] work is, first, he was a conceptual artist when that was emerging, with the early stick work that’s very minimal and so forth, and yet he’s kept pushing himself,” Schnitzer said. “Not reinventing himself but pushing himself … and therefore providing us with new expressions of an amazing creative mind.”

Arnoldi, who experienced the exhibition for the first time Sunday alongside donors at the opening reception, was also pleased by its seamless transition from decade to decade. 

“You have infinite possibilities,” Arnoldi said. “And the truth is, everything in here, even though they look radically different, if I hadn’t done all of this [earlier work], I could have never done that [later work].”

In the Arnoldi exhibition, feeling precedes figure. Arnoldi breathes life into everything from the intersecting freeways of Los Angeles to the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens, utilizing lines and colors, wood and paint to invoke a unique emotion for each one of his piece’s viewers.

Figurative artist Dan McCleary will interview Arnoldi regarding his work, practice and career at the USC Fisher Museum Feb. 1. The museum will also host a site visit to Arnoldi’s Venice Beach studio March 3 for a behind-the-scenes look into his process. 

Selma Holo, director of the Fisher Gallery, hopes to close the exhibition in April with the installation of an Arnoldi sculpture featured at the museum nearly 40 years ago.

“At Fisher in 1984 … we had the ‘Olympic Sculpture Show’ where Chuck Arnoldi was the absolute star,” she told donors. “With luck, and a little fundraising, we will reinstall that sculpture at a closing event for Chuck’s show in early April.” 

Holo was met by eager applause and one emphatic whistle. 

USC affiliates can view “Charles Arnoldi | Four Decades” over the next two months.