By Emily J. Weitz
Connecting students to local artists is nothing new at the Ross School. For the past 18 years, programs have been in place that link young children to artists through studio visits and conversations with the artists.
But this year, through the Museum Studies elective, students are actually getting the chance to see the many aspects of the art world. By working with local artists to curate a legitimate gallery exhibition, these high school students are getting a taste of the stresses and rewards of the real art world.
“My goal is for the students to understand that these exhibitions are team efforts,” says Jennifer Cross, visual arts chairperson and teacher of the Museum Studies class. “They studied museums, how exhibitions are put together, gallery design, publicity, and writing about the artist. There are many roles you can take in the art world today.”
The students came up with an exhibition called “Face Off: Contemporary Portraits,” which features five East End artists including Sydney Albertini, Jack Ceglic, John Hardy, Christa Maiwald, and Christina Schlesinger.
“At the beginning of the semester,” explains Juliana Fava, a Ross School senior and one of the members of the Museum Studies class, “we explored the question: ‘What is a portrait?’ We researched different portraits throughout history, from around the world. We decided to make that the question we addressed in this show.”
For Fava, a New York City resident and boarder at the Ross School, taking on the role of a curator is a new experience.
“I haven’t been involved in something like this at all, whatsoever,” she says. “I had no idea what I was getting into when I joined Museum Studies.”
But she’s found the experience very rewarding. She’s been able to talk to the artists, to find out what they were thinking when they created their work.
“We visited Jack Ceglic’s studio,” she says, “and asked him what a portrait meant to him, how he works. All the artists involved have a different perspective on what a portrait is, and it was really cool to see [Ceglic] in his own space.”
While the questions started out very basic, Fava found that once the conversation started they were able to go much deeper.
“We talked about what his artwork means, and what he’s trying to convey,” she says.
For a group of teenagers, selecting professional artwork could certainly be intimidating.
“Of course, we wanted to choose everything,” says Fava. “But we knew we wanted pieces that really portrayed the way these artists feel about portraits. Ceglic has some basic portraits and others that are really interesting, so we wanted a wide range.”
The students ended up with a variety of pieces; not only from each individual artist, but in terms of the range of artists represented. While Ceglic creates portraits from direct observation, Christa Maiwald works from photographs to make portraits in embroidery. Christina Schlesinger will display a series of self-portrait collages from her Tomboy Series. John Hardy will exhibit a selection of his portraits of former students, fellow artists and friends. And Sydney Albertini considers all her works to be self-portraits in their own ways. Her “personages” series will be on display, in which she wears a crocheted bodysuit and poses for photographs in domestic settings.
“A gallery is really like a canvas,” says Fava. “You have to make everything work together and make it look aesthetically pleasing and get the attention of people.”
Now that the class is gearing up for the gallery opening on November 2, Fava and her peers have a much better idea of what it takes to succeed in the art world.
“We put a lot of time and effort into it,” she says. “We work four days a week out of five, and sometimes after school. And the fact that people are interested in what we are doing is really rewarding. It feels really good. It’s interesting that we can get local artists to put in the show. It makes me feel accomplished.”
While many of the colleges Fava is looking at don’t offer museum studies as a major, she is still interested in pursuing her work in the field if she can.
“I’ve been looking at interning at local galleries,” she says. “That’s a good starting point if I do want to pursue it in the future, which would be amazing. It’s hard work, but it’s fun work. It’s rewarding.”
“Face Off: Contemporary Portraits,” will be on display at the Ross Gallery, 18 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton from November 2 through December 15. There will be an opening reception on November 2 from 4 to 6 p.m.