Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Offense and Dissent

My big project at The New School before I head off for China is an exhibition my New School history co-conspirator J, the university gallery's curator R and I are pulling together around "image, conflict and belonging" over our history. The heart of the exhibition will be displays on three episodes J and I discussed in our course last semester - the 1950s curtaining of part of the Orozco mural, an anti-war show Parsons seniors produced instead of their senior shows in 1970, and controversy around a racist image in a 1989 showing of the work of Japanese graphic designer Shin Matsunaga and the reaction of an offended African American faculty member. Several dozen current university citizens will be contributing brief essays on art or design elements of the school which they find confronting, too.

I've been encouraging students to think about academic work as analogous to curating an exhibition for a few years now, but I had no idea! To my astonished delight I'm finding that putting on an exhibit like this involves an immense labor, and a lot of people doing a lot of very creative and rigorous thinking. A research assistant has been helping us fill in the gaps of our stories, working closely with the University Archives. To make what would otherwise be a visually dull exhibit of old memos and articles vibrant, R has commissioned new work from two artists, an illustrator to do a graphic novel-like rendition of the Orozco story and an animator to play with the Matsunaga episode - each of them gets a whole big wall to fill if they choose.

And today R and I met the actual exhibition designer, whose job it will be not just to plan and build the displays, etc., but to find ways to make things cohere in clear and memorable ways. What fun to watch his mind working as we described the project and its aims...

I have no idea how all these moving pieces will come together, but it's going to be grand!

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