Arts & Culture

Form and function join ‘in spiritual union’

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2011

Students packed the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts Friday night to see an exhibition of contemporary art, much of it by students at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. But in this exhibit, the focus is not on the artists. It is on the curators.

The exhibit, on display through April 5, showcases works by students in MCM 1700R: “The Art of Curating,” taught by Mark Tribe, associate professor of modern culture and media.

The opening served as an introduction to the Granoff Center for many viewers. Students’ exhibits were designed to bring out aspects of the building’s design, from its long entryway to the various nooks and crannies in its stairwell.

 Kathryn Sonnabend ’11 and Joanna Lee ’11 designed their exhibit, “Gaze Through Space,” in the building’s elevator and the windows at each landing. They wanted to “explore the elevator and the spaces that go unnoticed,” Sonnabend said.

The pieces they chose are so subtle that they may have escaped notice if attention were not drawn to them by the event. But, when examined closely, they reveal an amazing delicacy and attention to detail.

Other students’ works are more immediately eye-catching. In “21st Century Changing Room,” student curator Zachary Smith ’11 set up a bizarre changing room — filled with wild costume pieces, brightly colored nail polish, animal print rugs and a leather whip — at the top of a staircase.

The work’s brochure claims that it uses a variety of media, including “the relational aesthetic of the Perry and Marty Granoff Center itself,” to create an all-embracing artwork. But it is difficult to see how this exhibit has any aesthetic similarity to the Granoff Center — rather, the way in which it sticks out so completely from its surroundings gives it a curious dynamism. The brightly colored, cluttered exhibit contrasts with the Granoff Center’s sterile and futuristic design.

All of the students in the class have an interest in art, art history or curatorial studies, Sonnabend said.

Though the University has art and art history tracks, “there’s this whole third area of curatorial studies,” which students are not often given the opportunity to explore, Tribe said. His course, which is being offered for the second time this semester, began as a Group Independent Study Project in the spring of 2007. In the class, students study the history and institutional critiques of museums, Tribe said.

“Nowadays, when you walk into a gallery the whole space is kind of one piece of art,” said Taiyang Chen ’11, one of the student curators. She and her co-curator, Julian Jimarez Howard ’11, tried to find a cohesive set of works, she added.

Their exhibit, “Function Flows Free,” focuses on the intersection of art and architecture, Jimarez Howard said.

It revisits the relationship between form and function. Three-dimensional sculptures fill the middle of a small room the curators themselves constructed using black electrical tape. These objects, though aesthetically pleasing, have no discernible use.

“Form and function should be one, joined in spiritual union,” reads a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. on the exhibit’s wall. This is a fitting conclusion to draw not just for the exhibit but for the building that houses it.

* * * * (four of five stars)

An excellent way to experience the Granoff Center for the first time.