An article by Patrick Tanella for Vassar College’s newspaper, The Miscellany News.
Art is often credited as an illuminating medium, a way to capture a scene, a theme or a truth. The Loeb’s newest exhibit, “Fluid Ecologies: Hispanic Caribbean Art” from the permanent collection is no exception. These 13 works on paper shed a much deeper light on Caribbean life, one that goes well beyond a typical tourist’s perspective.
The collection will open on Tuesday, Jan. 26th at 10:00 a.m. and run until May 8th. The seven 20th-century artists featured in the exhibit are from Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia. Through the coordination of Lisa Paravisini and Elizabeth Nogrady, the Loeb is able to bring visibility to these important works of Caribbean art.
Professor of Hispanic Studies Lisa Paravisini discussed with the Loeb’s curator of academic programs, Elizabeth Nogrady, about the Loeb gallery’s holdings on Caribbean art. Paravisini was planning to teach a section of Environmental Studies/Africana Studies 258 (Caribbean Culture and the Environment) focused on environmental art and was looking for materials from Vassar’s own collection to use in class.
The redesign of the class was aided by a grant from the CAAD (Creative Arts Across Disciplines) initiative that allowed the class to visit several museum exhibits and invite Mexican artist Alejandro Duran to class. According to Paravisini, “Given the depth and quality of Vassar’s collection of Caribbean art, Elizabeth Nogrady proposed the idea of organizing an exhibit. I was very eager to pursue it, although this is not something I’ve ever done before.”
Nogrady helped Paravisini bring everything together and co-curate the collection. Her job is to suggest ideas and work with faculty to make use of our collections through teaching and public presentations.
The Loeb’s coordinator of public education and information, Margaret Vetare, is especially excited for the exhibit primarily because it showcases works that usually cannot be displayed. She explained, “I’m very excited about this show because it gives us this opportunity to showcase part of our permanent collection that doesn’t get seen all that often partly because these are works on paper, which are very fragile and wouldn’t be on view for a long time the way other parts of our permanent collection are.”
Since many of the artists are still living today and are from various parts of the Caribbean, the collection focuses on a part of this artistic heritage of the Americas that isn’t represented strongly in the Loeb’s permanent installation.
Vetare is thankful for the work Paravisini did to make the exhibit come together in a cohesive way. She appreciates when faculty research can complement a museum collection. Vetare explained, “The work that Lisa Paravisini has done to place these works of art in context of Caribbean history and aesthetics is really important to us as a museum. It’s really great when faculty conduct research that contributes to the museum’s understanding of our own collection.”
Vetare is excited for what the collection brings to the Loeb and the surrounding community as a whole. The museum staff’s language proficiency makes the exhibit particularly accessible to those in the community who are not native English speakers.
She explained, “This is going to be fun for our visitors to see because it is different. We are excited that some of the docent staff who work here are fluent Spanish speakers, so I am going to be able to offer to group tours the exhibition in Spanish. This gives us an opportunity to link it with a language opportunity.”
The works themselves are vibrant and incredibly varied. Although they’re all works on paper, their medium is still very diverse. They include charcoal work by Thomas Sanchez, which you can hold up against the colored pencil and pastel work of incredible detail and fineness by Marisol. The collection also showcases screen-print techniques.
Although the exhibit is relatively small, it speaks to a variety of Caribbean lives and experiences. All of these experiences were heavily influenced by their location. As a result, the seemingly disparate collection touches on many themes in Caribbean life like the environment and its role in everyday life.
For Paravisini, uniting such disparate works was initially challenging. She explained, “The greatest difficulty I found as a beginner curator for an exhibit was finding a title, since it required a unifying concept bringing some very different art and artists together.”
She returned to these themes in Caribbean life to look for the connection. She continued, “Here, I returned to the initial idea for the class, what art can teach us about living in the Caribbean environment, and found clear links between the works and artists through the fluidity of their movements across the Caribbean Sea (migration and sea-crossings as themes), their concerns for the vulnerability of the Caribbean environment and their sense of geography and place.”
The collection as a whole is very different from what the Loeb normally showcases. The collection represents a different side of Caribbean art rather than the blue skies and clear water that is so prominently ingrained in Western ideas. While each work is very different, together they push against the identity imposed on them.
Vetare hopes that the exhibit resonates beyond Vassar and allows the Loeb to reach local populations that may be from the Caribbean and have a specific interest in the exhibit. It also reaches out to school groups and communities, such as people in the Hudson Valley who may have a cultural interest in the collection. The Loeb staff is eager for this exhibit to include groups of people who might not otherwise feel a connection to the museum. For those who might already be familiar with the museum, the collection asks them to look at the world beyond the standard canon of Western art and to look in different directions, at which the Vassar community thrives.