Last Monday,the Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces (WALLS) exhibition opened at WCMA. This exhibition is one of the most innovative to take place at the museum, running for only five days before closing on Sunday. The innovation comes with the closing day – on Sunday, the first 45 students to line up for the exhibition before 9 a.m. will be able to borrow any one of the artworks until the end of the semester. An additional 45 students who register for the lottery system on the WCMA website before Saturday will also be given the opportunity to borrow artwork.
WALLS offers an exciting and accessible way for students to interact with art. The exhibition was made possible by the Fulkerson Fund for Leadership in the Arts, which aims to facilitate students’ active engagement with art. Engaging with art should involve more then just an act of visual perception – it should provoke strong feelings, memories and sensations. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to look beyond surface aesthetics when art has no personal value for us as viewers – we tend to be detached from “great art” especially, because the possibility of its consistent presence seems impossible in daily life. This exhibition tries to confront that phenomenon.
From the moment you enter the gallery, there is a feeling very different from the sense of detachment that normally characterizes visits to museum galleries. The art in the room was breathtaking in a way it could never be in any other exhibit, because the possibility of ownership imbued the works with a fresh sense of possession and personal value. As soon as you walk into the room, you feel like you own every work of art decorating the walls. There is no fear of a time limit. Rather than holding the same esteem for each work as most often do – simply because each work is united in greatness – viewers made the rare extra step, and actually lost themselves in the pieces that they cared about the most. The energy in the room was that of total captivation; almost every student seemed totally gripped in viewing, understanding and reacting towards the various works. The beauty behind this collective emotion was the total awareness that all the works in the room were all priceless in some way.
All of the works on display were fantastic, but what truly characterized the collection was its diversity. The works ranged in style, medium and time period, from classical to modern and paintings to photographs. It is most certain that many students would be able to find an artwork that they absolutely love. Being able to view the artworks in that setting was thrilling in itself – it is so rare to be able to see a Chagall painting next to a Bill Eppridge photograph. Being able to engage with such striking visual diversity in such a familiar setting was refreshing. Three vivacious walls of art surround the viewer standing in the center of the room, and every painting or photograph engages its audience in conversation.
One of the events of the opening was a three-round debate on a small selection of art from the gallery. The host of the debate, Dave Johnson ’71, associate dean of the College humored the audience with his characteristic zeal. In each round, two speakers argued why the artwork they chose was the best in the room. The audience was then able to vote for their favorite work in each round on Facebook. This debate forced the members of the audience to make a decision about art, something casual viewing doesn’t always allow. The greatest part was that the speakers were not art specialists or historians – they were normal people who just happened to have a passion for art.
This event did something beautiful. It allowed every piece of art on display to take on a whole new meaning. It was less of an exhibition and more of a preview for a future all-inclusive auction, one that required nothing more then determination and a true love of art. Whether it serves to encourage someone during an all-nighter, to spark conversations with friends or to decorate a room, concrete possession of a work of art increases its value. WCMA has succeeded in expanding and transcending its walls and reaching into the lives of the College’s students.