McCabe Displays Student Studio Art Projects

“Observations of a Box”, the current exhibit on view in McCabe library, presents the works of students in Professor Logan Grider’s Foundation to Drawing class. The students were assigned to design three-dimensional compositions with recycled cardboard and then to configure them within a box into which the viewer can look from a small hole on its side. Students were allowed to choose whether they wanted their work to be presented using natural light or a light fixture within the box which the viewer can turn off and on by pressing a button located on one side of the box. Upon the completion, students drew the scenes of their composition, which are also on view. The compositions were intended to be inspired by the works of the master painters such as Giotto, Poussin, Titian, and Caravaggio. Giotto was  an Italian painter, who is widely considered to be key contributor to the early Renaissance movement of the late Middle Ages. He was known for the remarkable and detailed postures that his figures took on in the paintings, which were intended to be as natural as possible. Nicolas Poussin was a prominent painter of the French Baroque style and usually painted history paintings depicting religious and mythological scenes. Titian, like Giotto, had a profound influence on Renaissance and made use of the power of vivid colors and non-precise brushstrokes. Caravaggio in turn influenced Baroque painting and is often credited as the key artist to introduce modern painting. He is known for his lighting techniques as well as focus on portraying a realistic human state.
Students looked at works by these artists and then sketched interpretations of them. These would later influence their three dimensional compositions. The scenes depicted in these paintings varied in subject, but based on the students’ interpretations, many featured scenes involving multiple characters involved in some sort of conflict. The decision to use natural or artificial light also played a large part on the final product of the work. Alice Dong ’20  visited the exhibit and said,
I chose natural light because I wanted to have less of a harsh difference in the contrast of the material. I felt as though since we had already spray painted the majority of the box white, I felt like the tiniest bit of natural light should be able to give enough highlight to areas of my project. I learned a lot about how different lighting changes and how to trust my hand to draw without having to look at the paper every two seconds. Also, I used four different mediums to create my drawings so I was able to compare how different it felt using each one to create light. ”
The simple materials and methods that the students were permitted to use offer a contrasting perspective to the original sources of inspirations, which were often highly elaborate and ornate, featuring vibrant colors and textures. These contrasting perspectives demonstrate to the viewer that even when the ornateness is torn away, one can impose an equally strong image onto the viewer.  Dong  commented,
I really enjoyed this project as it challenged my ability to physically create something as well as my imagination in order to transform the inner parts of the box into a more natural-looking setting rather than just a bunch of pieces of cardboard. I also really liked that it didn’t matter that much how well you could make your box, but more so how well you could interpret your box of items that you made and transform it from 3D onto a piece of paper in front of you”
At the same time, many elements of the sources of inspiration remain. All of the painters discussed in the class were masters of light and portraying dynamic human interaction, and such themes were depicted in students’ compositions as well. Caravaggio’s paintings in particular depict dramatic scenarios in which a whole cast of characters are caught in an web, each character gripping another. These same dramatic scenarios appear in the students’ works. The box in which the compositions appear adds another layer of dimension. The viewer is prompted to engage with the work in an intimate way, demanding one to literally lean in to the work  peer in. Only one person can look in at a time, further making it an individualized experience.
The box requires the viewer to observe the art from a single angle chosen by the artist. This allows the artist to take control of the viewers perspective, empowering them as they expose their work to observers. From the outside, the box itself becomes the piece of artto an outside viewer. This fall, Pippilotti Rist’s exhibit at the New Museum in New York featured these same boxes, . Looking at the sea of boxes ahead, these became as important to the artistic experience as the actual video inside of them.
“I loved the way that the box itself became part of the artwork. It made it a really interactive experience.” said George Menz ’20 about the work. She added that “the boxes disguised the drama of the scenes at hand, so that the unsuspecting viewer was surprised when she peeked inside.”

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