UConn’s 50th annual Faculty Art Exhibition was about more than reminding the university of its talented fine arts faculty. The opening reception on Thursday evening focused on a resounding theme of freedom of expression in the chaotic world of art and the chaotic reality of our world today.
“I know it’s not easy to bring together so many visions in such a harmonious fashion,” said Anne D’Alleva, dean of the School of Fine Arts at UConn, in her gracious speech to faculty and museum staff.
With varied artworks from nearly 20 UConn art faculty hanging on the walls of the Benton Museum’s East Gallery, students with dreadlocks mingled between grey haired docents, eating cheese and swaying alongside a bassist and pianist.
Art and art history department head Cora Lynn Deibler followed on the microphone soon after D’Alleva, filling the room with choice words of inspiration. Deibler quoted a poem about the Vietnam War and an opinion column titled, “How artists change the world.” But her own words resonated the loudest. “Speak however you must to support the freedom of expression and the arts. Just don’t be silent,” Deibler said.
In the center of the gallery stood four inflated installations of grey teardrops with a nuclear essence and massive black lettering, created by Brandon Bultman. Around the corner were portraits of a chimpanzee named Toddy taken by Frank Noekler, a temple honoring delivery pizza, stacked by John O’Donnell, and framed napkins illustrated by Allison Paul.
Each bore a small plaque and fostered the buzz of conversation.
Deibler’s illustrated quotes of President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton attracted viewers continuously throughout the reception. Clinton’s quotes are optimistic and entangled around each other while Trump’s words are shaped into a skull and overshadowed by the president’s caricature.
Museum docent Judy McChesney of Storrs came to the reception to view the art in the evening’s social setting. She said she enjoyed Deibler’s illustrations, but “probably (Trump’s) the least, although as I was looking at it I thought to myself you’ve heard this all a million times, why are you still standing here reading it?”
McChesney equated the illustration titled “Donald J. Trump: Sounding Presidential” to the loud coverage of the election season. “I do have periods where I say I’m not listening to this anymore, but then you can’t really escape it.”
One of the more unique installations is a solitary white book on a podium, clearly labeled: Please handle. The piece is titled “Trumpula Rasa,” dated Jan. 20, 2017, the day of the Presidential Inauguration.
“It’s all conceptual,” Renald Louissant, senior graphic design major and student of the creator, Edvin Yegir, said of Trump’s “blank slate.”
“It’s hilarious… just knowing him, he is the kind of person to do this work,” said Louissant, who also works as a designer for the Benton.
Deborah Dancy, a professor of painting, has two massive abstract paintings on display in the exhibit, titled “This Is a Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into” and “East meets West.”
The two paintings are similar in many ways but also extremely different.
“My paintings are about conflict and resolution, and more conflict and resolution, and you think it’s going to resolve yet it’s not completely finished. You’re looking for moments of tension and resolution, to find some way to enter the painting,” Dancy said.
Each canvas is covered with oil paint, sparse in some corners and thickly textured in others. Rich colors including grey, lime green and lavender form in blocks next to blended strokes and large tube-like lines turning atop muddy sections.
Dancy related abstract painting to speaking different languages than the viewer of her artwork. Engagement is key and finding a way to come together and “find that moment where their world and [Dancy’s] world meet.”
John O’Donnell, printmaker and installation artist, explained his black and white, framed bumper sticker. “The saying ‘your crazy,’ it was designed to offend people who care about grammar and it was also designed to offend people who think nothing of grammar. They would take it personally if you said ‘you’re crazy,’” O’Donnell said. “I wanted something that would capture the whole feeling of the election, and it was a bumper sticker that said: ‘your crazy.’”
“Essentially Donald Trump’s campaign was made up of bumper stickers. Really short, stupid sentences and words that people were just like ‘Yeah! I agree with that!’ and not even having to think about it since the sentences were so simple and just face. They were easy to respond to,” O’Donnell said.
According to O’Donnell even the frame played into the concept of the piece. A simple bumper sticker, full of grammatical error, framed in an elegant border represented the ridiculous reality of an official, and presidential, election.
“I think I am someone who is just individually political, it is one of my interests, always has been. I’ve always felt a responsibility to speak about the things that I care about. So that does find its way into my work,” Deibler said.
Though many pieces had political undertones or were born from thoughts on current events, many were not. It depends on the artist.
“If one wants to make (the art) allegorical to what is present then that’s fine, but I think it could speak to all sorts of things; politics, relationships…” said Dancy of her abstract pieces.
The room was filled with music and conversation until 6:30 p.m. and then slowly emptied.
“It’s a very eclectic crowd, the only place you’ll see that’s more eclectic is probably a faculty show somewhere else,” said Deibler.
The exhibit is free to the UConn community and open during the Benton’s regular hours.
Francesca Colturi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.