By David Horvitz
Before addressing the issues concerning student exhibitions in the Gund Gallery, I wanted to say that I am tremendously proud of what the gallery has accomplished in a few short years. It has raised the profile of visual arts at Kenyon. It has had tangible benefits for admissions. It has helped in the recruitment of faculty and staff. It has raised the profile of the College worldwide. The Gund Gallery is already recognized as one of the leading college teaching and learning museums nationally. The gallery has become a gathering place for faculty, students and the community at large. Gallery exhibitions and programming are extremely popular and are being recognized far beyond Gambier and Mount Vernon. The Gund Associates program is being copied by other institutions. All of this together has been transformational for the liberal arts experience of Kenyon College students. Remarkable, really.
Up until three years ago and for most of Kenyon’s existence, the visual arts were relegated to inadequate facilities (that’s an extraordinary understatement) and were really not a priority of the College except for a small, passionate group of faculty and students. For the rest of the students, the rest of the faculty, the administration and the community at large, visual arts were not an area of focus. Kenyon had a minimal collection and no place to show it except for a makeshift gallery in Olin. Curated exhibitions and exhibitions borrowed from other institutions were virtually nonexistent. Faculty seldom, if ever, taught from objects. Now, faculty are creating new and exciting ways to use art to make their points and help students use the creative process in different ways to solve problems in fields as diverse as sociology and physics. Students are now having their lives changed by intense engagement with the works themselves.
From its very beginning this new museum/gallery was to be used as a resource for all students at the College. An investment like this would only be made if it would benefit the entirety of Kenyon College. There is another building on campus that focuses on studio art, one that I am proud to have been a part of. While students can be and often are good artists, and with time and experience may even become great artists, the art I believe we should show and create programming around is the best art from the 20th and 21st centuries. These are works culled from our growing and extraordinary collection of world-class modern and contemporary art, exhibitions the staff mounts or exhibitions the staff borrows, all of which are intended to benefit the entire liberal arts experience. This is the mission of the Gund Gallery.
The Gund Gallery has a limited number of days in the year where it can use its resources to fulfill its mission, where students, where faculty and where the community can experience this close-up relationship with the art and where faculty can use this art in their curricula. If significant space and time are taken away from this opportunity, space and time that will benefit only a very small part of the student body, the result will be an underutilization of this resource. For the reasons set forth above, very few of the best college or university art museums in the country have student exhibitions in their main galleries. Oberlin does not have them. Williams does not have them. Bowdoin does not have them. The Tang Museum at Skidmore only shows student art beginning in May and ending at Commencement.
However, Kenyon has a history of providing exhibitions of senior student exercises. Gund Gallery, working with the administration and with faculty, has creatively devised a way to accommodate this history while still allowing the Gallery to fulfill its fundamental mission to the entire Kenyon community. I applaud the efforts of the director, the provost and the president in creating this accommodation where everyone wins.
David Horvitz ’74 is a member of the Board of Trustees. He is chairman of WLD Enterprises Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.