Sylvia Rodriguez (‘21) and Maddie Zimmerman (‘20) are art history majors and gallery assistants to Dr. Heidi Kraus, Director of The De Pree Gallery. What follows is a conversation between the two of them regarding the current show, (re)collection by Nate Young, as well as the gallery space itself.

(re)collection is Young’s reflection on the African American experience during the Great Migration of the 20th century, He will deliver an artist’s talk on Thursday, February 6, at 4 p.m. in Cook Auditorium for the DePree Art Center, with a reception following in the gallery from 5 to 6:30 p.m. 

Sylvia Rodriguez: Maddie, what did you think when you first visited the exhibit?

Maddie Zimmerman: I was immediately struck by the relative emptiness of the space. Normally, we have so much work down in the gallery, whether on the walls or on the floor. In (re)collection, however, there are truly very few pieces in immediate view. I think this really makes the viewer focus on the art on display. When we have a show with a lot of art, patrons tend to wander more quickly between pieces. I would say the opposite is true with Nate’s show, where folks are more intentional about spending time with the work. How was your first experience in the immersive installation?

SR: Honestly, it was kind of challenging! I think, especially as an art history student – maybe you can add to this – we’ve been trained to look at a piece rather than experience it. This piece challenged me to do that. And for me, that experience was honestly kind of frightening! I was in a dark place with unexpected moments of light and sound with no apparent pattern. I found myself trying to grab some hint of reality.

MZ: Yes! Certainly very unsettling at first. But the more I’ve entered that space, the more captivating I’ve found it. Art historical tradition can be so removed and distant in terms of viewing work, which is why I think I am so drawn to contemporary art. So many artists are experimenting with ways of literally bringing the viewer into their work.

SR: Yes, I totally agree.

“I think the gallery as a teaching tool is so powerful. This exhibit in particular could be used for a sociology or psychology course, as personally, being in that space was incredibly challenging.”Sylvia Rodriguez

MZ: Something that I think many people forget is how important art is as an educational tool, especially those who aren’t as involved in the art world as we are. How do you see Nate’s exhibit and The De Pree Gallery in general being used as this kind of space?

SR: I think the gallery as a teaching tool is so powerful. This exhibit in particular could be used for a sociology or psychology course, as personally, being in that space was incredibly challenging. The darkness, the sound of the bones. I think it fuels interesting questions about where society is right now and what the exhibit can teach us. I think the De Pree Art Gallery has enticing and thought-provoking exhibits. It really is up to professors to see how they can integrate this tool into their courses. 

MZ: Absolutely.

“I particularly enjoy talking to those who proclaim themselves as knowing very little about art because these people often have the most interesting interpretations. They see the work in ways influenced by their own worldview or field of study, which brings so many new meanings to the art!”Maddie Zimmerman

SR: What do you think? I feel like you might have a lot of input since you work down here in the gallery.

MZ: Yes, so because I work as a docent in the gallery, I get to have a lot of interactions with visitors regarding the shows. I love when patrons come up and ask me questions, or offer up their opinions, because it means that people are doing more than just passively viewing. I particularly enjoy talking to those who proclaim themselves as knowing very little about art because these people often have the most interesting interpretations. They see the work in ways influenced by their own worldview or field of study, which brings so many new meanings to the art! This is why the gallery isn’t just for art majors; it’s for everyone, because everyone can take something away from the show. And for us, since we’re both art history majors, the gallery is such a fantastic, tangible resource. How do you see it impacting or influencing your study?

SR: For me, The De Pree Gallery always pushes me. Every semester there is new subject matter, new material, new techniques. It’s easy to look and discuss art that you like, right? Like, I bet you could look at Chinese photography all day and talk about it freely. With exhibits like (re)collection we are forced to look differently, think differently, and infer differently. I think that is the most valuable input the gallery gives me.

MZ: That’s a great way of putting it. Art should challenge us, and that’s what makes The De Pree Gallery so great. Every show, every semester, from internationally-recognized artists to student work, brings something new to the table. As someone who wants to eventually work as a curator, getting this experience in a gallery that has such variety and such challenging work is so critical.

SR: Yes, absolutely! Thanks for talking with me, this was fun.

MZ: It was. Thank you, too!

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