Exhibition Revisits William Wiley and the Saga of the ‘Slant Step’
William Wiley was a longtime UC Davis art professor, renowned artist, punster and champion of the Slant Step, a touchstone of Funk art. His work from the mid-1960s, some made with his student Bruce Nauman, gets a close look in “William T. Wiley and the Slant Step: All on the Line” at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. The exhibition gathers for the first time many slant step objects made by both artists and others. Wiley died in early 2021 and the exhibition also serves as a reminder of his influence as a professor at UC Davis from 1963 to 1993.
The original “step” is an oddly-shaped stool Wiley purchased in 1965 at a thrift store. He gave it to Nauman (M.A., art, ’66), who became one of the most widely respected and influential artists of the last 50 years. Wiley and Nauman, along with many other artists in Northern California and beyond, created art inspired by the step.
Wiley’s artistic expression poured out in paintings, found object constructions, sculpture, printmaking, music, performance, theater and film. His art was in the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennial in the 1980s, and a retrospective was organized by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in 2009.
The original step disappeared for decades, but a few years ago it resurfaced and was donated to the Fine Arts Collection at UC Davis by two of Wiley’s former students.
“William T. Wiley and the Slant Step: All on the Line” at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art is on view until May 8, 2022.