Willingly or not, these artists are inviting the participation of the audience — something most student exhibitions lack.
Both projects are part of “Next at the Corcoran,” a sprawling spring exhibit featuring the graduating class of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in an unprecedented Corcoran Gallery of Art display of student work. Bachelor’s degrees nearly in hand, the more than 50 members of the college’s class of 2011 have stormed all of the special exhibition spaces that the gallery has to muster.
It’s the first time that the gallery and the college have exhibited as one Corcoran.
“When you see these works together at once, you can pick out themes. You get a detailed perspective seeing all the work together,” says Catherine Armour, provost and chief academic officer for the Corcoran. “I think the gallery spaces themselves inspire the students to work at very high levels.”
The upstairs galleries are filled chockablock with art. Two documentary films are projected in one gallery, including a work by photojournalism student Madeline Marshall, whose film follows Mabel Sawhill, a 97-year-old woman who lives independently and runs a catering business. Photojournalism student Matthew Borowick’s nighttime landscapes of downtown D.C. skirt the fine-art photography line. Several students mentioned Forest Allread — a fine arts senior whose multimedia projects play on the gender and racial identities of iconic pop characters such as Betty Boop — as the class’s strongest talent.
“Next” takes up seven traditional galleries as well as the museum’s stairway and famed rotunda. There, the school’s graphic-design seniors have displayed senior texts on subjects as diverse as Arabic calligraphy and women in Soviet design posters. Overhead hangs a cloud of letters — N, E, X and T — made with plexi and translucent color vinyl.
Arguably, the show itself is the students’ greatest artistic achievement. From the massive banner advertising “Next” on the side of the Corcoran’s building to the design of the text placards by each piece, the look and feel of “Next” is the work of the Corcoran’s design lab — a hands-on graphic-design course offered by the college. The “Next” cloud in the rotunda is one example of the work they did to put together the exhibit.
“It’s definitely the most important part of our careers here,” says Victor Ware, a graduating graphic-design senior who served as the design lab manager. In that role, Ware explains, he didn’t work directly with the design of the show’s “collateral” but instead managed keeping his team of four students on schedule, directing e-mail correspondence and drafting proposals.