This past week, Kenyon first years have been welcomed to campus amid a global pandemic. Sophomores, on the other hand, take note of what has changed, including the new addition to Gund Gallery’s facade: a banner that reads “The Museum Is A School: The Artist Learns To Communicate, The Public Learns To Make Connections.”
While it is a piece of art, the sign also advertises the current exhibit, which showcases the conceptual work of Luis Camnitzer’s installation The Museum is a School and David Levinthal’s photography series American Myth & Memory. Camnitzer made this banner out of spite after a quarrel he had with a museum director. The director canceled Camnitzer’s show and said, “This is a museum, not a school.” Fairly soon after, the banner came to fruition.
Christopher A. Yates, associate director of the Gund Gallery and curator of the Luis Camnitzer exhibit, explained that, because of COVID-19, there won’t be a traditional gallery opening with guests. Instead, students currently off-campus will receive a booklet so that they can interact with the pieces remotely and provide responses.
Luis Camnitzer, a Uruguayan artist, theorist, and educator, creates pieces intended to make the viewer ponder and reflect on themself and the world. Much of Camnitzer’s work requires interaction so it sparks discussion and inquiry. For instance, a box is mounted on the wall next to a plaque which reads “This box organizes the universe into two spaces discuss what could make the inside more appealing than the outside.” People are encouraged to answer using Post-Its. “The piece is never done until the viewer responds,” Yates said of the piece.
While some of Camnitzer’s work is philosophical, many pieces are also politically significant. His piece Territorio Libre consists of barbed wire surrounding a tiny circular projection of the words “Territorio Libre,” which translates to “Free Space.” This serves as a commentary on the exclusion of immigrants and outsiders from the territory within the spiked wire. The space is an oxymoron, for, once inside the “Territorio Libre,” there is no escape.
Alongside Luis Camnitzer’s installation is the work of David Levinthal, a photographer who takes hyper-focused pictures of toys in staged lighting to humanize them. He constructs scenes using figurines and even Barbies, but never refers to them as children’s toys. They are plastic simulations of real-life scenarios and people. Simultaneously, these toys give the viewer perspective on society and its cultural values. In History, the miniature soldiers are in the midst of war, fighting for their lives. In Barbie, the Barbies are modeling and in Baseball the baseball players are their human counterparts — or “heroes,” as Yates puts it. The Gallery has six of Levinthal’s most known projects. The remainder of his 400 pictures are currently in the possession of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Gund Gallery staff is thrilled to be welcoming Kenyon students once again for this compelling exhibition. On Friday, the Gallery will also open a new part of the exhibit titled The Art Happens Here: Net Art’s Archival Poetics. According to Yates, the show will feature 15 diverse digital works spanning from the 2000s. It will contribute to the riveting discourse between Levinthal and Camnitzer’s installations about how to question the structure of America’s flawed society.