Utopia, Dystopia, and Imagined Worlds

By Elizabeth Crea

The Wright Museum of Art is currently featuring a student curated exhibit entitled “Utopia, Dystopia and Imagined Worlds.” This exhibit is the result of a five day intensive exhibition workshop course in which students experienced research, hours of planning and the opportunity to introduce this artistic showcase to campus.

Working as a team during New Student Days, students Caitlin Besadny ’12, Emily Bianchi ’12, Carol Dooley ’13, Caitlin Hanno ’12 and Kei Ishii ’12 received a very real world experience as to how museums design and plan their exhibits. “I feel that a lot of museum studies classes are essentially job training courses, teaching you how to properly handle artifacts and whatnot. But this class was very experiential and hands on,” Ishii said.

Collaborating with Joy Beckman, director of the Wright Museum of Art, and Craig Hadley, collections manager, the students were given three pieces in the Wright collection and the title of their future exhibit in order to lay the groundwork for their plan. The three original pieces that can be viewed in the gallery are “Adam and Eve” (Paul Marie Sibra, 1927), “Alternate Heaven” (James V. Lamb, 1990) and “Uprooted: Alien Nation” (Mark Kostabi, 1997). As for the art pieces in the gallery, Beckman said, “We gave the students potential options from our collection to include in the exhibit, but we also gave them the choice to find outside pieces. We purchased a few posters, but about 70 percent of art displayed in
the gallery is from the Wright’s collection.”

Using these guidelines, the rest was up to the students. Two days were dedicated to planning the layout, artwork and collection information, which included a trip to visit the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the James Watrous Gallery for inspiration. Another two full days were spent putting the exhibit together: framing, mounting, making labels, editing descriptions and more. “We had to coordinate spacing, where to put the wall, the overall flow of the exhibit… all five of us really put a lot of effort into this project,” said Ishii. In terms of planning and installation, he said, “It’s obviously on a much smaller scale compared to other art museums, but the whole experience of creating it was great.”

All of their hard work paid off; the student curators deem their exhibit a huge success. “The ultimate goal of the course was to see what it’s like to be a museum curator,” said Caitlin Hanno. “Usually how it works in museums is the director has control, the curators need to work around the pieces while following the director’s guidelines. That’s exactly what we did in the course; it was very integrated, very interdisciplinary.”

According to the introductory description in the gallery written by the students, “The utopian genre has been a vehicle for conceptualizing new worlds… these imaginations are ways for us to realize our cultural fears and desires in preparation for worlds to come.” The gallery includes a variety of utopian, futuristic and bizarre pieces that will be sure to capture your imagination. Featured artwork includes Communist-era posters from the Soviet Union and China, aerial-view maps of Jerusalem and Barcelona, as well as imagined utopias from France and other cultures. Books suggested by the students that embody these themes include “The Giver”, “1984” and “Brave New World.”

Ishii recommends paying particular attention to the section of the gallery with the Communist-era posters. While he says most of the exhibit focuses on the abstract, these posters “have a very real connection, it relates to our contemporary life.”

As for the course itself, Exhibition Workshop is offered to students of all majors and minors. This is the second year the course has been offered; last year’s exhibit theme was The History of Art History, and the theme for the upcoming Fall 2012 semester is Representations of Time. The course will be offered every fall during New Student Days and is worth .25 credits.

The “Utopia, Dystopia and Imagined Worlds” exhibit is featured in the South Gallery of the Wright Museum of Art and will be open through November 13. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday through Sunday.



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