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Behind Closed Doors: Celebrating the Old with the New

Our post for today comes from Mary-Kay Lombino, The Emily Hargroves Fisher ‘57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director for Strategic Planning. She shares what she is working on while the museum is closed.

Paul Strand (American, 1890- 1976) Vassar College Chapel, c. 1912 Platinum print with hand coloring, Purchase, Lydia Evans Tunnard, Vassar College class of 1936, Fund, 1988.8

One of the best things about being a curator of contemporary art is working with living artists. And one of the best things about working with living artists is commissioning new work. A commission is a leap of faith. It allows me to give an artist I believe in an opportunity to create something completely new. This year has been a great year for commissioning new work at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. Back in January, Harry Roseman completed his site-specific installation in the Atrium Gallery. His wall drawing entitled Hole in the Wall was an awe-inspiring example of how an artist, given a specific assignment, can come up with an astonishing new way of approaching a particular space. Roseman’s wall drawing has been painted over and what remains in the white space is a feeling of possibility—a feeling of what could be.

It is that notion of what could be that inspired me to commission three artists to help us celebrate Vassar College’s 150th year anniversary in 2011. A little over a year ago, I began working with photographers Tina Barney, Tim Davis, and Katherine Newbegin on a new commission, this one very different in scope than Harry Roseman’s project. I chose these three artists because each of them has particular style and a unique set of interests that I hoped they would bring to the project. I asked them to come to campus and create a new body of work inspired by what they saw here. After numerous visits to Poughkeepsie and many hours clocked in dorm rooms, classrooms, basements, townhouses, and everywhere else they could think of, the photographs have all been shot. A selection of the resulting photographs will comprise the exhibition Vassar 150 Years Later, which opens in January with the reopening of the Art Center and the kick-off for Sesquicentennial events across campus and beyond.

An Eisenstaedt image from the LIFE Archives

This new commission follows a strong photographic legacy that dates back to the early part of the twentieth century. Throughout the history of the college photographers have been invited to campus to capture the architecture, people, and lifestyle. Two historical examples are Paul Strand who photographed several Vassar buildings in 1915 and Albert Eisenstaedt who illustrated campus life for the February 1937 issue of LIFE magazine. Photographing Vassar is not a new idea, however, the works created for this exhibition promise to give new life to the notion of seeing Vassar through the eyes of artists. While the final selection for the exhibition has not yet been made, I have seen all the works and I can say that the artists surpassed my expectations and created surprisingly diverse images that together capture the character of what Vassar is today.

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