About the Nicholas & Lee Begovich Gallery

CSUF’s Nicholas & Lee Begovich Gallery and its adjoining student galleries serve as a nexus for critical thinking, discovery, and participation. It is a division of the College of the Arts at CSUF where art, faculty, students, and the community meet. Since 1970, the gallery’s mission is to present exhibitions that contribute to the experience of learning and understanding visual culture. Its programming connects classroom curriculum to the discourse of visual culture, regionally and globally.

The Art Gallery on the campus of California State University, Fullerton was established in 1963 by Jerry Samuelson (College of the Arts, 1975-2009). During the early years of CSUF, the art department was merely a series of temporary buildings on campus. Since these buildings lacked adequate security and climate control, the gallery could not be housed within the department and was first located in what is now McCarthy Hall. However, in an effort to make it more accessible and visible, the gallery was relocated twice between 1963 and 1967. 

In 1967, Jerry Samuelson became Art Department chair, then appointing Dextra Frankel (1967-1991) as his successor. The gallery was also moved to its last interim location in 1967: an enclosed 1,800 square-foot space on the second level of the University Commons building (now the Titan Bookstore), where it remained until 1969. During this transition period, the gallery established strong programming that formed the foundation of the University’s exhibition design emphasis and museum studies certificate programs. Many of the exhibitions presented featured works normally on view only in major museums and galleries. 

Permanent buildings for the Visual Arts Center were dedicated in February 1970. The dedication finally enabled the gallery (renamed the Main Gallery) to be located within Visual Arts, where it remains today. The inaugural exhibition in this new 2,500 square-foot space was entitled India: Arts of the People—Tribal, Village, Town. With Frankel as director, the gallery became known for elegantly designed exhibitions such as: Paint by Molly (1971), Lenore Tawney (1975), Beatrice Wood: Retrospective (1983), The House That Art Built (1983), and Betye Saar’s Resurrection: Site Installations 1977-1987 (1988). 

Several of Frankel’s exhibitions were also historically significant. At her 1970 solo show at Cal State Fullerton, feminist artist Judy Chicago proclaimed her independence with a banner reading: "Judy Gerowitz hereby divests herself of all names imposed upon her through male social dominance and freely chooses her own name: Judy Chicago." An ad with the same message later appeared in Artforum magazine. Chicago also staged the performance work Three Atmospheres on campus in conjunction with her CSUF exhibition. Frankel also presented a survey exhibition of the work of hard-edged minimalist painter John McLaughlin, the only one of its kind during his lifetime.

In 1993 the gallery was remodeled based on a plan Frankel had developed several years before her retirement in 1991. The remodel created a new, more visible entrance to the gallery, added a stand-alone climate control system, and installed a new lighting grid and ceiling. Prior to the remodel, visitors to the gallery entered through double doors located just inside the Art Department office.

After a national search, Mike McGee (1992-2018) replaced Frankel as director of the Main Gallery. His first exhibition The Elegant, the Irreverent and the Obsessive; Drawing in Southern California (1993) was a comprehensive survey of contemporary drawing in the region. McGee also made his mark as director with solo exhibitions of the work of Dan Wheeler (1995), Tony DeLap (1994) and Italian artist Robert Pentena (2002). In each of these shows, McGee collaborated with the artist to transform the gallery into a distinctive, engaging environment. 

McGee continued Frankel’s focus on exhibition design, also steadily increased the number and size of its gallery publications. Many of these publications have been produced in collaboration with faculty, students and alumni—most notably with professor Theron Moore’s graphic design practicum class. McGee was also instrumental in the founding of Grand Central Art CenterOpens in new window  (GCAC), a mixed-use educational, residential, and commercial satellite of the University, which opened in 1999. Located ten miles south of the Fullerton campus in downtown Santa Ana, GCAC features 2,600 sq. ft. of exhibition space as well as a theater in-the-round and retail store. 

In 2009, the Main Gallery was renamed the Nicholas & Lee Begovich Gallery, after two donors who are longtime volunteers and arts supporters in Fullerton and Orange County. Lee Begovich has been involved with CSUF's Art Alliance, a philanthropic support group for the University, for over four decades and in 2011, Nicholas Begovich celebrated his 90th birthday in the gallery that now bears his name.

Continuing the legacy of the gallery,  Jennifer Frias,  who began her new role in July 2019 as the Gallery's Director, plans to expand the breadth of the collection by reflecting on relevance and diversity. Recently acquired under her leadership, are works by Vietnamese-American painter, Ann Phong, who has an active arts practice nationally and internationally. Frias intends to make the permanent collection accessible for research to the University and its surrounding communities by embracing the gallery's original vision.

In 2022, the College of the Arts – an essential part of the creative fabric of Southern California for more than 60 years – embarked on the Visual Arts Modernization Project. This major renovation will tranform teaching, learning, and community engagement with the arts. Once completed, Begovich Gallery will be housed in a high-tech, multi-level building filled with natural light and exceptional exhibition opportunities.