Last Friday, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) hosted a reception to celebrate its new season and exhibitions.
Surrounded by an exhibit entitled “Cosmologies,” which is made up of pieces pulled together from the existing WCMA collection, we were wined and dined, as all guests were given an opportunity to drink in the art on the Weston Gallery walls. Opening this season with “Cosmologies,” “The Greenhead Series” by Professor of Art Laylah Ali ’91 and Sol Lewitt’s “Well-Tempered Grid.” With these pieces, WCMA sets a high bar, enticing visitors to come back over the course of the exhibition.
“Cosmologies looks at the way a whole range of artists explore the origins of the universe and its meaning,” reads the informative blurb at the exhibition’s opening. But this is not just a collection of pictures of stars. Curated by Williams graduate student Elizabeth Rooklidge, the collection is made up of interesting and complex elements. The works, concepts and media are extremely varied, but are woven together by the constant presence of modern art.
The modern pieces run through “Cosmologies” as a major component. There is a large number of monochromatic images, broken up by a turquoise shock in June Wayne’s “Debristream” and a more subtle mustard moon in Lynn Chadwick’s “Moon Series.” A dynamic hanging sculpture entitled “Nuit” stands in the corner, offsetting the other two dimensional pieces. Despite the variety, however, the pieces all come together nicely, communicating a shared challenge: to think about that which is beyond. One guest remarked how fitting the exhibit’s location is; through the Weston Gallery window, we can see out across Williamstown, while through windows behind the frames on the gallery walls we can see out even further, across the entire galaxy.
Ali’s “The Greenhead Series” is exquisitely intricate and, at times, highly disturbing. It houses a collection of over 40 gouache-on-paper illustrations, all created between 1996 and 2005 (“Art prof showcases collection at WCMA,” Sept. 19).
Sol Lewitt’s “Well Tempered Grid” is, as expected, extremely geometric and, rather surprisingly, occasionally comedic. In this exhibit, we see an important collaboration between Lewitt and his craftsmen to explore the idea of the grid. This relationship between craftsman and artist is integral to understanding Lewitt’s work in that much of the artist’s work is not executed by Lewitt himself but by the surrogate hands of his craftsmen. Lewitt, interestingly, grounds much of his art in a set of instructions that are taken by the craftsmen and carried out. This particular exhibit included both wall drawings executed by the craftsmen and some framed pieces executed by Lewitt himself. All of them challenged the idea of the grid, as Lewitt eliminated the idea of a grid as a simple construction of horizontal and vertical lines. One particular collection was composed of eight pieces that, at first glance, all looked exactly the same. Closer inspection (and added consideration of the titles) made clear that each one was actually a different representation of the idea of the grid. Some had squiggly vertical lines, some had straight; some had squiggly horizontal lines, some had straight; some had alternating straight and not straight, both vertical and horizontal lines. Irregular Grid, for example, eschewed almost all geometry. In short, each piece was distinct upon further consideration.
Yet another piece took an image of a very well known grid, the Manhattan blocks, and added scribbles on top of them in direct challenge to the perpendicular lines. This piece, is a prime example of how Lewitt challenges the grid and makes it his own.
This season at WCMA, it seems even the audience is being challenged. WCMA’s strong pieces and dynamic exhibitions will challenge and reward each visitor. “The Greenhead Series” prompts us to reflect on the nature of our societies; “Cosmologies” points out the window and tells us to look beyond; and Lewitt forces us to rethink concepts we had previously taken for granted as fact. We are challenged to be active, curious and inquisitive: These are not just pretty pictures, and they will definitely make for an interesting season.