Long time artist/activist/curator/educator Richard Kamler has been practicing a socially engaged form of 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, sound pieces, actions and interventions, events, drawings, sculptures, and public presentations have dealt with a range of various social and environmental considerations and have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Kamlers premise is that art is, and can be, a catalyst for social change and cultural transformation.
Kamler’s work has been exhibited in a wide range of venues, among many are Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, 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,” a sound event in San Francisco Bay and 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, and that has the intention of reaching out and engaging a wider public and to act as a catalyst to encourage social, cultural, educational and environmental 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 structure and installation in southwest New Mexico. The drawings, photographs and objects were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Through the 80’s and into the 90’s, Kamler created a series of installations, drawings, and sound pieces that looked at issues of personal freedom and institutional responses to them. This work investigated the various aspects of our system of “correcting and punishing,” the economic, social, and cultural aspects of our penal institutions, and the populations and class structures that support these institutions. These mixed media installations were shown in a range of art and non-art venues.
In Jan. 2012 Kamler had a retrospective of his work, 4 Decades of Socially Engaged Art at the Thacher Gallery at USF, and in Jan. of 2013 Kamler was the featured artist in Speak Your Peace, at South of Market Cultural Center in San Francisco.
Kamler has received many awards and grants for his work; among them are: a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship, Alaskan State Arts Council /NEA grant where he spent 9 months in residence on Baranof Island, Alaska doing landscape installations. He has received several California Arts Council Artist in Residence awards, a Gunk Foundation for Public Art grant, Institute of Noetic Science, and a grant from Potrero Nuevo Fund. In 1981 Kamler spent two years as Artist in Residence in San Quentin Prison. This experience profoundly changed the focus of his art as well as his thinking about how art might be integrated into the fabric of our culture. He began to think of art as a transformative agent, one for social change and cultural transformation. In 1990 he received a grant from the Adolph Gottlieb Foundation. In 1996 Kamler was awarded the prestigious 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.
From 2006-2008, Kamler hosted a radio show, ArtTalk, 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, and radio allowed it to be practiced in another form.
In 2002 Kamler, conceptualized, and is currently working on, 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 intention is to move the artist into the great global dialogues of the day. In May 2008 Seeing Peace/the Billboard project went up in San Francisco with 10 billboard and 10 artists from 10 different countries designing a billboard reflecting what pace looks like from their unique cultural perspective.
Kamler is an Emeritus Professor of Fine Arts from the University of San Francisco where he created and directs the Artist as Citizen program. This program, a collaborative community-based arts program, places artists into various communities to collaboratively create community based art projects.
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, theater designer.