The top of the staircase in the DePree Gallery is encompassed in a tranquil quiet. This space lends itself well to curiosity and wonder, allowing any viewer to connect with and attempt to understand the complexity of the artwork being displayed. The current show, the faculty exhibition, brings together work done by Hope art professors, and is curated by Jay Henderson, the DePree Gallery director, professor and contributor.
One of the first things to be aware of is the theme of connection throughout the artwork and the space. Henderson said, “I think there is an unusual relationship between a few of these pieces.” He explained their relationships and how they connect to each other from across the room by being made by the same artist or using a similar material. Others reflected one another by being placed on the floor in front of another piece, in conversation. One is even seamlessly interwoven into the space by following the curve of the wall and extends into a place that is hardly ever used.
“There is an aspect of performance and movement,” said Henderson. For some pieces, the performance already happened in the creation of the work; for another, it is yet to come. One of the artworks became an actual performance piece with the encouragement of Henderson. He said. “I want to give him [the artist] the opportunity to do a performance that was specific to this space. It is harder to find a gallery space to do a performance in than it is to just display something.”
If you go to the gallery, you can watch video preview of the performance. It takes a few minutes to grasp, and even longer to understand. The movement aspect shows itself in the artwork, scaling the walls and complimenting the shapes of this unique space. Henderson said. “[These pieces] make you move.” Some of the pieces allude to movement more overtly, as it is intrinsic to their design. This movement can be small but it speaks volumes and brings new dimension to the work.
One piece in particular stood out to me, and I spent several minutes in front of it, completely transfixed. It is a dynamic sculpture piece and the smallest installation in the whole exhibition, yet commanded a large part of the gallery. However, I didn’t notice it at first. Henderson said, “People think it’s an empty space. It is kind of this molecule of movement that really centers your attention, and we agreed that we really wanted that.”
When I first entered the gallery, I wondered why there seemed to be an empty corner. This was done intentionally. “I wanted for it to have its own space…something so tiny can be so unexpected” said Henderson. And it certainly is unexpected. The size, scale and placement of this piece grabbed my attention and left me staring for a long time. It took a lot of resistance to not reach out and touch it.
Another thing to notice is that there aren’t any names, labels or titles attached next to the artwork. That wasn’t by accident. Henderson said, “I decided not to do labels, because I wanted the work to be seen in and of itself.” He felt like having labels with artist names, media and titles would take something away from the experience, and he said, “[I didn’t] want people to go up to the labels to try and understand the work.” Because that wasn’t really the point. Especially if students come in knowing the faculty, they might have preconceptions or expectations. Having each piece speak for itself eliminates that. In the future, there might be a gallery map and checklist so viewers can see who created each piece, but that isn’t a priority at the moment.
These pieces certainly speak for themselves. Each work stands on its own, yet has an intricate relationships to the others as well as the space. It is easy to spend extensive amounts of time staring in wonder at the various paintings and installations, and the viewers get the sense they are a part of something special.
Exhibitions like this don’t happen a lot at Hope. Henderson explained, “A big reason I wanted to do this show was to help create community within DePree.” He explained that there are two shows that students can participate in each year: the juried show and the senior show. However, this doesn’t lend much exposure for the faculty to share their work with students and the community. There are solo faculty shows every few years, but that isn’t the same. Henderson said “[exhibiting] as a group communicates something different about being a community.” This show specifically allowed students to be aware of what their professors are doing, and that was what Henderson was going for. “I really want these to be more regular,” he said.
That community aspect is what makes this exhibition truly unique. Henderson said that “…in a sense, I think it’s a special show.” Not only are there pieces exclusively from Hope professors, but only members of the Hope community can experience it. Different from other years, it is required to have a Hope College ID to access DePree. It definitely communicates something intentional about this show and that putting it together was centered on connection and community.
After seeing the exhibition for the first time, I sat on the floor writing in my notebook. Other students trickled in, laughing, talking and taking time to explore and question each piece of artwork. Clearly, they didn’t feel the silence in the same way I did, but that didn’t matter much. It was good to see others enjoying the space in their own way. Eventually they sat down and took out homework or reading, and just relaxed amidst paper installations and hanging paintings. Seeing this is the precise idea of a community space—a place to wonder and observe, or simply to be.
This exhibition isn’t going to be around forever, so make sure to pick a time to see it before February 26. The performance piece will happen between 10 am and 4 pm on February 11 and 12. The faculty exhibition is a must see for members of the Hope College community.
February 20, 2021 @ 9:40 pm Lisa Walcott
Sarah, thanks for your thoughtful account of your visit to this exhibition!