Faculty and staff art exhibition lights up Dreitzer Gallery

November 8, 2019

The Dreitzer Gallery in Spingold is hosting a very personal display. Until Nov. 17, the gallery is home to this year’s showing of the Faculty and Staff Art Exhibition and that doesn’t just mean a few paintings by professors. Staff from all corners of campus life, from community advisors to Sodexo employees, have all submitted works in a range of mediums. I will attempt to highlight the works that struck me the most, but this is the sort of exhibition that demands you go out there and experience it for yourself. 

The word that came to my mind while first exploring this exhibition was “palimpsestic.” A palimpsest is a piece of paper that has been written over a bunch of times such that the old writing meshes with the new in a kind of wordy mess. A conceptual or metaphorical palimpsest follows this idea; “things” are continuously changed, altered and added to in order to create the impression of history and the passage of time. For example, London is often considered a palimpsest because of the extreme differences in age and construction between buildings. There is just something picturesque about the decision to erect the London Eye directly across the river from the centuries old Big Ben.

This faculty exhibition shares a similar vibe. There are the expected paintings and photographs, but there is also a handcrafted walnut end table, a quilt, origami vases and even the polar bear costume worn during the climate strike campaigns a few months back. In terms of sheer variety, the gallery is endlessly amusing. The random spectacle is grounded by the idea that every one of the pieces is a product of the spare time of somebody working on campus. Unlike more detached exhibitions, this gallery will serve to deepen our connections to the people that give this university its identity.

How many people can claim to know Sheldon Gilden? Frequenters of Upper Usdan may recognize the name: He is the kosher supervisor of Louis’ Deli! On display is an unassuming table of little wire statues (officially titled “Kinetic Mobiles.”) The figures are bent into the shapes of birds, faces and dogs. There is even a golden elephant. This kind of art is nice enough to look at on its own, but one gains a much deeper appreciation for them when the artist can be talked to directly. 

While I was perusing the gallery, the engineer of the mobiles himself made an appearance! He encouraged me to touch the figures and play with their kinetic attributes. The upper and lower jaws of the faces wiggle with laughter, the dogs wag and sway and the birds flap in their own unique, quavering style. He showed me his tool kit and told me where he acquires his materials. As it turns out, the table that his works are displayed on is also his own makeshift design: It is a leaf of his home dining table! Then I got to see a picture of his German Shepherd after it tore apart his couch. He recommended me some interesting engineering videos, and we parted ways. 

Sodexo wants us to build a stronger bond with the hourly workers, but the bureaucrats are rarely successful. JustArts managed to bridge the students, faculty and staff in an intimacy that the higher-ups could only dream of.

Did you know that Elena Gonzalez Ros, the director of the Spanish language program, is an avid quilt and tapestry maker? Her version of a template called “Technicolor Galaxy” is prominently displayed at the forefront of the exhibition, and it really deserves it. It’s a striking piece of color and texture that does well to usher in a dynamic collection of art. 

One of her other works is more educational. “Spanish Gone Missing” is a cloth recreation of a computer desktop. It depicts a web browser loaded to the 404 page of the Spanish version of the White House official website that was removed after Trump took office. To this day, the page remains down. This gallery can teach you some not so fun things, too. 

While mass climate activism has quieted down somewhat since September, the climate strike lives on in Dreitzer. Many visitors will be immediately drawn to the polar bear costume. Professor Sabine von Mering (GRALL/ENVS/WGS) is responsible for its display. Her exhibit is a statement of activism, her desire to “channel [her] frustration at the level of apathy about the climate crisis.” Students not directly involved in climate activism on campus likely had no idea who was walking around in that outfit.

It is fitting that Ellen Rouseville, the program coordinator of romance studies, is a skilled painter of classical portraiture. On display is a collection of portraits reimagining classical portraits as her friends. Does your friend group host a renaissance painting club? In fact, the faculty are just as alive as us students. Some of them are, evidently, much more so.

This exhibition is dedicated to Carla Underwood, the senior department coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and a member of the JustArts planning committee, who passed away in 2018. Gallery visitors were allowed to take home a recipe of hers, directions for making a cream of broccoli soup. It is one thing to hold a memorial for a lost faculty member; it is another thing entirely to bring together a campus of artists and engineers to honor somebody that dedicated themselves to creativity and passion on campus. The gallery lives up to this ideal. Student visitors should make an effort to reach out to any faculty they recognize while exploring the gallery. I can think of no better way to honor the artists and the arts.

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