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“Unpack this!” with Kidder ’08

Friday, November 2, 2007

“Unpack This!” – an exhibition of works by Brown undergraduate artists in a variety of media – opened last night on the second floor of the List Art Building. The exhibition was organized by Ann Kidder ’08 as an independent study project in curatorship. It features not only painting and sculpture, but also photography, video, installation and music. “Unpack This!” will be on display until Saturday.

The show’s title, Kidder said, began as a reference to one of her visual arts professors who used the word “unpacking” to describe the parsing of abstract theoretical concepts. At first, Kidder envisioned the show as a collection of works that “unpacked” their respective media in a reflective, experimental way. “I wanted it to be artists who are engaging in their process,” Kidder said.

Jay-Gould Stuckey ’90, a visiting professor in the department of visual arts, was Kidder’s adviser on the project. Though Kidder had gained experience in the field by working in a contemporary arts gallery, she had never curated a show of her own before “Unpack This!”

Kidder said she assembled the show over the course of a month, contacting individual artists and putting out a formal call for submissions. From there, she winnowed the show down to 14 artists.

As she proceeded to build the show, however, she discovered that, apart from “unpacking,” another unifying theme had emerged: Many of the works seemed to relate to the ideas of industry and machinery. Kidder said this seemed like a natural extension of her original theme – the process of creating art in varied media. The show’s title, then, plays with “unpacking” in the context of both artistic theory and physical manufacture.

Trying to stay close to these themes while narrowing the show down to its current size wasn’t an easy task for Kidder. “I had some works that were submitted that were absolutely beautiful, but they didn’t fit the theme of the show,” Kidder said. “I really wanted the works to go together as a group.”

What is remarkable about “Unpack This!” is the extent to which it achieves this cohesiveness in spite of its breadth, though it might have benefited from an even narrower scope – as it is, the sheer volume of work can be overwhelming at times. The most successful works exemplify the concept of “unpacking” by refusing to be boxed in or compartmentalized by genre.

Standouts include David Watson Sobel’s ’08 breathtaking photographs, drawings by Alex Rosenbaum ’08 and Talia Rozensher ’09, Herald Opinions Editor’s Jacob Schuman’s ’08 “Red, Green, Blue,” which manipulates clips from Fox News into mirrored images that are balanced, but not fair and Samantha Cornwell’s ‘07.5 squirm-inducing video “Pluck,” which documents, in shocking close-up, the artist tweezing her own eyebrows.

“Every time I see it, I feel it’s more engaging,” Kidder said of “Pluck.” She described how she had found the video almost impossible to watch at first, but continued, “It’s become one of my favorite pieces.”

The opening also featured live music by Metropolis, a group that produces thrilling, experimental jazz and rock. Expansive sound works by Joshua Marshall ’08, a member of Metropolis, are part of the show, installed amid the photographs and paintings.

“Unpack This!” isn’t the last show that Kidder, a visual art and international relations double concentrator, is planning. She hopes to mount an off-campus exhibition of Brown student work and is working to put together an international exchange show featuring pieces by students in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo as well as Brown students.

All in all, “Unpack This!” is an incredible first draft for Kidder’s potential future as a curator. Stuckey, who praised Kidder’s “commitment and dedication,” put it perfectly: “This is really just the beginning of this force of curating shows that is Ann Kidder.”

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