Long time artist/activist/curator/educator Richard Kamler has been making socially-engaged art since 1976 when he made his first major installation, “Out of Holocaust,” a full size reconstructed section of one of the barracks from the Auschwitz Death Camp. Since that time his public installations, audio pieces, actions and events, drawings, sculptures, and public presentations have dealt with a range of social, cultural, political and environmental considerations and have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Kamler approaches his practice from the premise that art is, and can be, a catalyst for engagement.
A book on Kamler's work, Seeking Engagement: The Art of Richard Kamler , published by Common Ground Publishers is out and available by clicking HERE.
Kamler’s work has been exhibited in a wide range of venues, among them: Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the East Jerusalem Cultural Center, McMullen Museum in Boston, the San Francisco Art Institute, on the grounds of the San Francisco County Jail, “The Sound of Lions Roaring,” an audio event in San Francisco Bay, in front of San Quentin Prison, Long Beach Museum of Art, Sam Houston Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Texas, Raw Space Gallery in Chicago, Art Space in New York, at the Experimental Video Festival in the Netherlands etc. In the early 90’s Kamler began to include a “dialogue” component in his work, a series of “Community Conversations.” It was influenced by the idea of “social sculpture,” from Joseph Beuys’, the German conceptualist. Kamler’s “..Conversations” have the intention of reaching out and engaging a wider public and to act as a catalyst to encourage social, cultural, educational and environmental engagement and transformation.
From 1979-1981, Kamler in collaboration with Elin Elisofon, and under a Project Grant from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, spent two years creating the “Desert Project,” an earth installation in Southwest New Mexico. The drawings, photographs and objects were exhibited at SFMOMA.
Through the 80’s and into the 90’s, Kamler created a series of installations, Maximum Security, 1-5, that looked at issues of personal freedom and institutional responses to them, i.e. our Penal System. This work investigated the various aspects of “correcting and punishing,” the economics, the social, and cultural aspects of the institutions, their populations and class structures that support these institutions. These mixed media installations were shown in a range of art and non-art venues throughout Europe and the USA.
Kamler's recent retrospective: Celebrating 4 Decades of Socially Engaged Art was at the Thacher Gallery at USF, 2012.
Kamler has received many awards and grants for his work; among them: a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship,, an Alaskan State Arts Council /NEA grant where he spent 9 months in residence at Petersburg on Baranof Island in Alaska doing “landscape installations.” He has received several California Arts Council Artist in Residence awards, Gunk Foundation for Public Art, Institute of Noetic Science, and Potrero Nuevo Fund. In 1981 Kamler spent three years as Artist in Residence in San Quentin Prison. This experience altered the focus of his art as well as his thinking about the way art might be integrated into the fabric of our culture. He began to think of art as an engaging agent, an opportunity for cultural transformation. In 1990 he received a grant from the Adolph Gottlieb Foundation. In 1996 Kamler was awarded the Adaline Kent Award from the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1997 Kamler was awarded a California Arts Council Fellowship and in 1999 a major Artist Fellowship from George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
Kamler hosted a radio show on KUSF, ArtTalk, 2007-2009, a series of conversations, provocations and dialogues with a range of artists, activists, educators, curators and critics. The show fleshed out his premise of art being an engaged practice in another format.
In 2002 Kamler, conceptualized Seeing Peace; Artists Collaborate with the United Nations, a visionary international initiative that seeks to bring the imagination, through the presence of the artist, to the table of the General Assembly of the UN. The most recent manifestation of Seeing Peace, May 26-June 30, 2008, was Seeing Peace/the Billboard Project where 10 artists from 10 different countries on 10 billboards in San Francisco made one piece of art reflecting their unique cultural perspective as to “what peace looks like.” Kamler is currently proposing Seeing Peace/the Billboard Project/Interstate 80 where 192 artists, one from each member nations of the United Nations, will make one piece of art reflecting what pace looks like from their unique cultural perspective. The billboards will run all along Interstate 80 between San Francisco and New York and end with an exhibition of the billboard designs at the United Nations gallery.
Kamler is a Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the University of San Francisco where he Co-Directed the Artist as Citizen program with Sharon Siskin. A one year program that placed students/artists into various communities to collaboratively create community based art projects.
Kamler was Chair of the Fine Arts Dept. from 2006-2009.
He has been in Residence at Blue Mountain Center for the Arts in New York, Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, and Millay Colony for the Arts in New York. Kamler has a B.Arch. ‘63 in Architecture and an M.Arch. ‘74 in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. He was an apprentice from 1963-1965 to Frederick Kiesler, the visionary painter, sculptor, architect.