Orianna Cacchione: New Assistant Director at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum UCSB
The Art, Design & Architecture [AD&A] Museum at UCSB’s newest acquisition is the hire of Orianna Cacchione, PhD, as its Assistant Director. Filling a long vacant position, she brings new perspectives, background, and for certain, relief, to its Executive Director Gabe Ritter, PhD.
Our interview on Wednesday May 17, was at the museum, during the MFA students’ grad show installation. Cacchione was upbeat as we walked to her office, which had her desk with computer, two chairs, and blank white walls. As we sat down, she opened her laptop and shared, “I haven’t put up art as yet and my computer isn’t set up…I literally am just arriving this week!” We laughed andgot down to talking art, her vision for the museum, and a few spoiler alerts:
Q. What value add from your curating and researching Asian art are you bringing to the AD&A?
A. My background in working with contemporary artists from Asia has given me a different point of view from which to think about contemporary art — one that I hope has given me a more expansive and sometimes critical framework and perspective with which to approach my work. My academic research considered how so-called Western art history circulated around the world and how Chinese artists responded to it. This research has helped me think about the artists that have been excluded from or overlooked in more conventional art histories and what has caused this. I have always tried to bring that perspective into my curatorial work, working with artists who are not as well known in the United States as they are elsewhere or should be.
In the past two years, I’ve been thinking a lot about the networks, exchanges, connections and affinities of artists, artworks and ideas between the Americas and Asia. For me, the Art, Design & Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara is a perfect place to continue this Transpacific research. Moreover, this work dovetails well with the program that the AD&A’s Director, Gabriel Ritter, has been developing for the Museum. Gabe has been focused not only on thinking about what it means to be an art museum on a university campus but also what it means to be an art museum in this region — who are the publics that we serve, how can we better reflect their lives and experiences, and how can our work spark inspiration, creativity, and engagement.
With this in mind, the exhibitions that the Museum has organized in the last two years have been really ambitious and inventive, often giving an artist their first exhibition at an art museum. I’m beyond excited to partner with Gabe and the Museum’s Curator of the Architecture and Design Collection, Silvia Perea, to continue to develop this program and to broaden how we understand the region. And this is where my research about Transpacific networks and exchanges can really come in.
Q. Let’s expound on student engagement…
A. For a lot of students at UCSB, coming to the AD&A Museum might be the first time they have ever set foot into an art museum. We are trying to make the Museum a place where all students feel welcome and that connects to their lives. Because of this, we are focusing on how we engage students and how we can encourage students to get excited about art in both the exhibitions we organize, and the ways the Museum is integrated into broader pedagogical structures at the University.
Recently our exhibition program has showcased artworks, themes, and artists that better reflect our students’ identities and experiences. We’ve been organizing exhibitions with Indigenous, Latin American, and Asian American artists to better reflect the student body here on campus but also because these communities have often been excluded from the types of stories one sees in art museums throughout the United States. This is definitely something that has been changing, and I’m really proud of the AD&A Museum for being part of that change.
I think in the past many university art museums have been closely tied with art and art history students, but we’re focused on stretching out across campus to also work with other departments from literature or history to perhaps more unexpected departments like the sciences or engineering. We want students and faculty to see the Museum as a resource for their scholastic work, like the library, a place to spend time with friends, engage with art, but also do research.
I’m also excited to develop programming that helps students find “points” into the artwork. Often people see an artwork and think that it is hard to penetrate or understand. We’ve been talking about hosting more lectures by artists and scholars and organizing student-led tours of our exhibitions to make the Museum more accessible.
Q. What is the coolest thing about your new position at UCSB?
A. Everything is! Coming from Chicago, everything feels so new. I was previously a curator at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, and I became committed to working at university art museums during my time there. University art museums are small, nimble and responsive; they are free and open to all; and they are sites of experimentation, testing the limits of what a museum can be. The University of Chicago was a private institution and I’m really excited to explore what it means to have a museum at a public university, how we can build an ambitious exhibition and engagement program for our students here and our communities throughout the region.
Q. Do you have a personal collection?
A. Yes, although a modest one. Growing up in Erie, PA, many of my parents’ closest friends were artists and our house was filled with their work. And so I tend to collect as locally as possible. Incidentally, the artworks in my collection create a map of sorts, tracing the different places I’ve lived from Erie to Beijing, China, and most recently Chicago.
Q. What artworks are you planning to have in your office?
A. I want the artworks in my office to be responsive to and reflective of the AD&A Museum’s collection and exhibition program. We just opened Chaotic Good, the 2023 MFA thesis exhibition, so I want to focus more on highlighting the Museum’s collection. For now, I’m thinking about showcasing artworks by women, including Clare Rojas, Hung Liu, and Judy Chicago.
Q. Spoiler alerts for the readers regarding upcoming events, talks, and exhibitions at the AD&A?
A. The exhibitions that the Museum has coming up in the next two years are going to be exceptional. In the Fall, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Museum’s renowned Architecture and Design Collection, and my colleague Silvia Perea will be curating the first exhibition to highlight the career of pioneering architect, Helena Arahuete. We are also opening an exhibition curated by UCSB PhD students, Sylvia Faichney and Graham Feyl – Please Come In – that features objects from the Museum’s permanent collection. And in 2024, we will feature a major retrospective of Keith Puccinelli’s art and design work curated by Meg Linton. The exhibition recognizes the influence Keith’s practice has had on the region, and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to learn more about Santa Barbara’s rich art scene.
Prior to AD&A, Cacchione was the Curator of Global Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum of Art and a lecturer in the Department of Art History at University of Chicago for six years. There she curated and co-curated key exhibitions – Monochrome Multitudes, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China; Samson Young: Silver Moon or Golden Star, Which Will You Buy of Me? – the first solo exhibition of the Hong Kong-based sound artist in the United States – and Tang Chang: The Painting that Is Painted with Poetry Is Profoundly Beautiful, the first solo presentation of the pioneering abstract artist’s work outside of Thailand. Cacchione holds a PhD in Art History, Theory, and Criticism from UC San Diego, and has presented her research at the Hammer Museum, Centre Pompidou, the Guggenheim Museum, OCAT Xi’an, the Asia Society Hong Kong, the College Art Association, Freie University, Academia Sinica, the Association of Asian Studies, and the World History Association.