Although Whitcomb Art Center (WAC) may feel a million miles from the happenings of central campus, the art department has been working hard to follow a main trend of campus life: diversity.
Professor of Art History and Museum Studies, Gregory Gilbert, believes that this focus on diversity across campus further progressed under President Teresa Amott’s efforts.
“She believed that we really need to diversify this college. We need for the college’s student makeup to reflect our country,” Gilbert said.
Although the entire art department staff is white — with only two women — positive steps have been made in recent years to diversify in terms of guest lecturers or visiting artists, such as black photographer Cecil McDonald this past fall, sculptor Mario Moore in 2015 and ceramicist Kahil Irving who visited in 2017.
Gilbert denounces any thought that this is a tokenism, as the art department firstly focuses on the artist’s work.
“The first criteria is the actual art. So we are looking at the quality of their work and the quality of the content of the work,” Gilbert said. “And then we do consider then the issues of inclusion and diversity.”
Luba Liubvina, a senior art major, stressed the importance of students being exposed to a set of diverse artists as it is essential to communicate and receive critiques of their work.
“I can definitely see that some students might feel excluded in the mostly white environment despite the professor’s efforts to minimize it,” Liubvina said.
Race is not the only issue looked at by the art department. Diversity in gender and sexuality are also being looked at, with Gilbert hinting at the possibility of a female artist being a resident professor in the near future.
Another way that the art department is trying to expose students to art from more diverse artists is through Borzello Gallery.
The gallery, which opened a year ago, was in part meant to house Knox’s surprisingly precious art collection. Through wealthy donors, Knox has come into possession of work from famous artists such as Rembrandt, Edouard Manet, Francisco Goya and Albrecht Durer.
“Sometimes if I post something about it, people are fascinated that those artists are here,” Liubvina, who works for the gallery, said.
For a long time, Knox had the problem of not having anywhere to display these or any works in the controlled setting of a gallery space. For decades, these valuable artworks have been sitting in storage across campus.
“It’s still kind of mind boggling, or just still surprises me, that all these alumni donors gave art to a college that didn’t have a formal gallery to display it,” Gilbert said.
Now that the school has a gallery, it is looking to attain works from more diverse artists. In order to do this though, Knox has to get rid of many of its less valuable works of art due to a lack of storage, a lengthy progress due to the legality of going through the process.
The school has already begun collecting and displaying some more diverse art as Gilbert has worked with students to curate exhibitions in Borzello. Knox has been in possession of work by the likes of black artists Clementine Hunter, Jacob Lawrence, Murray DePillars and Sam Gilliam as well as female artists Mercedes Matter, Dorothea Tanning and Rosario — a queer Hispanic artist.
“I want our shows to really be cutting edge in terms of theoretically current, and socially current which means these exhibits will address current concerns about race, politics, social justice, gender and sexuality,” Gilbert said.
He hopes that the school is able to deaccess some works of art in order to be able to accept art that further diversifies the collection and reflects the school’s ideas of diversity.
“I think that the art on display should be representative of the college. It should speak to its social cultural values, its historical values. Art that would also be representative of the social ethnic backgrounds of students and staff,” Gilbert said. “And that also includes issues of race and ethnicity, but even other forms of inclusive identity — which would be gender. So, you know, art by women, even art by queer artists.”
Liubvina has taken a museum curating class with Gilbert as well as works at Borzello Gallery. She finds the amount of publicity and foot traffic towards the gallery disappointing.
“Most people that go to the gallery are not people that want to look at art, but people that think it’s Borzello Hall because they are confused and are looking for class,” Liubvina said.
She notes that it is rare that a college with Knox’s size and location has access to such resources and that more students from all disciplines should visit it, along with the fact that the gallery is free.
“I mean, sometimes it’s good to go to the gym if you’re an art major too. For other people, it would be nice to explore the visual culture and what Knox has in their collections,” Liubvina said.
Borzello Gallery is located in CFA and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.