Starting at the beginning of this month and ending in early April, McCabe Library will play host to the curatorial efforts of some of Swarthmore’s own students. “Wildly Human: Beyond the Bestiary” represents more than six months of work on the part of List Gallery interns Elizabeth Laplace ’12, Soomin Kim ’13 and Francesca Bolfo ’12 in bringing the work of local contemporary artists to Swarthmore.
The origins of the exhibit stretch all the way back to last September when Andrea Packard, director of the List Gallery, was approached by McCabe in order to fill an early springtime gap in its exhibition schedule. Packard then decided to turn this request into a teaching opportunity for her interns at the gallery.
“I think she just decided that she wanted to do something a little bit different,” Kim ’13 said, “to do something intensive with her three interns and give them the chance to work on the curating process.”
For Bolfo, an honors art history major who hopes to end up in curatorial work, this specific opportunity to engage in the curating process served as unique preparation for her future aspirations. “I think this opportunity is way more exciting than putting up work in a gallery somewhere because this was so interactive,” Bolfo said.
For Bolfo, Kim and Laplace, the experience negotiating McCabe as a gallery space served as a unique introduction to the curating process.
“The biggest challenge we realized right from the start was the issue of reaching out to the sea of struggling artists to find somebody who would best show in a space like this,” Bolfo said, talking about unorthodox lighting and wall space in McCabe as compared to these in a typical art gallery.
From the beginning, the process was an evolving one, shifting from what was initially going to be the showcase of a single artist’s work, to a group show, displaying works of artists who feature a common theme.
“The first person we spoke to didn’t end up working out,” Bolfo said. “We approached someone else, we did another studio visit, but that also didn’t end up working out. We decided, as time was getting less and less to approach a group of artists.”
The concept for the show was inspired by the work of nationally recognized Texas photographer, Isa Leshko. Leshko’s ‘Elderly Animals’ project, which features photographs of aging animals like an old blind horse and a 12-year-old potbellied pig, stemmed from her watching her mother struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
“It started from our excitement for this photographer who shot elderly animals. How they were portrayed is so human-like, so when you look at the photos, you get the in-between sense of human and animal,” Kim said.
It was through Leshko’s work that the interns came upon the notion of the bestiary in the Middle Ages that informs much of the artistic works in the exhibit. Bestiaries were created in illustrated volumes in the Middle Ages and describe the creature that is in-between human and beast. “From there, we each came up with around ten artists that we found, we went through all their work and then selected a smaller group,” Bolfo said.
This selection process allows for the diversity of mediums, styles and messages within the common theme of the exhibit.
“We didn’t always end up coming to conclusions easily. We have a lot of similarities in taste, but there are definitely differences as well,” Kim said.
Talking about the role of maintaining diversity in taste and perspective when composing the exhibit, Kim said, “I would say our own tastes are reflected in the selection of artists, it’s inevitable. For example when you look at Brian Meunier’s work, for me, there’s something warm here. It’s sort of funky but also and strong and realistic, and I can easily imagine the artist’s pure and childlike imagination.”
“At the same time when you look at verses, the collage work, it’s so intricate. It doesn’t speak to me as instinctively as Brian’s work but it’s so fun to look into because there’s so many stories you can get out of it,” Kim said.
From Brian Muenier’s sculpture work to Josh Dorman’s complex collages, there is a wealth of engaging artwork to provide students on campus with a meaningful study break in this pioneering, student-curated exhibit in McCabe.