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Space walk

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The new student art gallery

Right, assistant professor Sheila Gallagher. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Right, assistant professor Sheila Gallagher. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Senior lecturer Stoney Conley's oil painting hangs under a gleaming red "Exit" sign beside a set of emergency doors. Assistant professor Sheila Gallagher's sculpture sits next to a dangling fire hose coiled behind a glass door framed flush with the wall. "I suppose there are some things here you just can't hide," said Conley of the structural accoutrements. He was at the opening of a new student-curated art exhibition, on September 29, in an unlikely corner of the Bapst Art Library. Situated on what must be Floor One-and-a-Third, the gallery, which was created last spring, is visible only from below, as a balcony in the student lounge; it is accessible only from above, through dark gothic doors in the building's great stone entry hall.

Conley smiled as he surveyed the 27 other pieces of art by faculty and staff that had been selected by a student jury and now were hung around the gallery's natural obstacles: a wrought-iron stair railing, a utility closet door, the hard-to-miss red emergency fire alarm pull, and, several feet above it, the siren. "The amazing thing is, it all somehow works," he said. "The students have made this strange space beautiful."

The Bapst Student Gallery is the first formal exhibit area on campus devoted solely to student artists. Students run the gallery, they curate its exhibitions, mount and publicize the shows, and display their own work. Conley and Gallagher, both faculty in the fine arts department and art gallery curators in their own right (Conley is the chief curator of BC's McMullen Museum of Art, and Gallagher has curated shows in several New England galleries), have been the students' advisors.

"This is really a proving ground for them," said Gallagher, nodding at studio art major Elizabeth Amento '05 and art history major Erin McCutcheon '05, two of the principal curators hosting this exhibition's opening. "It's not just a chance for students to exhibit their work," she said. "It's a place to get some real-life experience." Pausing near the fresh flowers on the banister, Gallagher spoke with Amento and McCutcheon, congratulating them on their success in attracting faculty and staff artists from outside the fine arts department, as well as from within.

Only a year ago, this narrow, L-shaped balcony was a storage area cluttered with books and boxes. "This was a space no one thought about," said Adeane Bregman, the head librarian at Bapst. "But real estate on campus is at a premium," and knowing the strong desire among students and faculty for art space, said Bregman, "We had to get creative."

Collages by Liz Cinquino. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Collages by Liz Cinquino. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

In November 2003, Bregman and Gallagher began talks with Art Vision, a student group headed by Amento and McCutcheon, about converting the Bapst balcony into a gallery. Work was completed in April, in time for the opening of the inaugural exhibition, Spring Fling. The show, which lasted through the summer, featured drawings, sculpture, photos, and paintings by 25 students. A guest book at the entrance preserves the public's response: "A wonderful display of different media and talent"—student '04; "It's nice to see an artistic community does exist at BC"—student '04; "Finally, a place for student work to be exhibited!"—Kevin Tringale, O'Neill Library; "Alexis—Beautiful, Cookie"—Love, Mom.

The current exhibit includes works by nine members of the fine arts faculty, as well as by BC administrators Sheila Platt (Graduate School of Social Work) and Steve Vedder (Media Technology Services), and faculty Anne Bernard Kearney (Romance languages), Crystal Tiala (theater), and Claude Cernuschi (art history).

"I am so pleased to be a part of this," said Tiala, whose two oil paintings hang side-by-side at the end of the main gallery. By day, she spends her hours as an assistant professor of design in the theater department; her painting is reserved for weekends. "I've been here five years, and this is the first time I've seen faculty and staff [beyond the fine arts department] bring out their work."

Though the "Exit" sign and fire hose have endured (a gallery built from scratch would have higher ceilings, with signs, sensors, and sprinklers suspended from above), the balcony's walls are now painted white, the flickering fluorescent lamps have been supplanted by track lighting, and the concrete floor is covered with discrete moss-green carpeting. "It's a real gallery space," said Bregman. "It's not traditional, but it's real."


AT THE OPENING of the exhibit in September, Amento and McCutcheon roamed the gallery, welcoming faculty and students. Quiet, and unassuming, they sought opinions: Was the artwork hung according to proper measurements? Did the landscape photos show well next to the aquatint prints? Five or six other Art Vision members milled about, a mix of freshmen, sophomores, and upperclassmen. Each had answered Art Vision's open call for curators and spent hours at the gallery over the last few days, puttying and painting over old nail holes in the walls, and hammering new ones, evaluating and reevaluating each placement. Now, as visitors poured in, the students scattered quietly, watching for reactions.

"There are so many hidden talents here," one young man said to McCutcheon, as they stopped in front of a brightly colored collage by Liz Cinquino, an administrator from the school of social work. "I had no idea she was an artist."

"That's why I love having this gallery," McCutcheon answered. "Up until last week, neither did we."

Cara Feinberg

 

Cara Feinberg is a Boston-based writer. The faculty and staff art exhibit closed on November 10. The next show, opening November 17, features student responses to Fernand Knopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes, an exhibit at Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art that runs through December 5.

 

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