A week ago Saturday marked the closing of "Ten Young Artists at Harvard," an exhibition of visual art in various media by undergraduates. After nearly a year's planning, the exhibition was on view in Gund Hall a total of 11 days, the brevity necessitated by previous commitments on the part of the Graduate School of Design for the use of its lobby space. A number of questions have arisen in the aftermath of the exhibition concerning its background and purpose. Though not an official spokesman for the group, I consider the questions to be of sufficient importance to demand a reply.
Last spring, there was considerable enthusiasm among students active in the visual arts for an exhibition of undergraduate work. The idea for such an exhibition was not new; rarely, however, has the idea come to fruition. That it did in this case is largely due to the persistence of Phil Gabrielli '74, around whom the enthusiasm coalesced. Gabrielli made repeated efforts throughout the past fall and winter to secure both the money and space necessary for an undergraduate exhibition. Neither was easily acquired.
The University has a minimum of gallery spaces for use by students, and virtually all its space was too small for the planned exhibition. The only area which was both suitable and available was the lobby of Gund Hall, customarily used for the display of work relating to the Graduate School of Design. Money was a more significant problem. The University has no funds allotted specifically for undergraduate exhibitions, nor would they make any available. The entire cost of the exhibition--upwards of four hundred dollars for publicity, installation and the opening--was met by interested individuals. Fully three-quarters of the money was contributed by us, the participants.
Each of us had different reasons for participating. Within all of us, however, was a common frustration. Working primarily outside the context of an official University course or activity, the majority of us had no outlet for our work, no place to exhibit what we had done. We shared a sense that the University should take more interest in its artists; to this extent we were united in a common purpose. It was our aim to prove that an interesting exhibit could be assembled exclusively of undergraduate work.
By doing so, by proving that undergraduates were capable of producing intelligent work and responsible enough to organize an exhibition, we hoped to indirectly encourage the University to participate to a greater extent in such exhibitions. And, quite apart from the quality of the individual works, the exhibition was interesting. It was well installed, with sufficent diversity to suggest that the visual arts, despite a lack of University sanction, continue to be of significance to a broad spectrum of people in the undergraduate community.
"Ten Young Artists," then, was a challenge to the University. A challenge to provide more adequate space for the production of art, and to distribute that space more equitably. A challenge, too, to allow those of us who are so inclined the opportunity to perfect our artistic skills within the context of a liberal arts education. And primarily, a challenge to provide assistance in the exhibition of undergraduate work.
We are not united in a demand for academic credit for our work. Together, however, we ask not to be condescended to. Our work is as valid as any other. If credit is not granted us, adequate facilities must be provided for both the production and exhibition of undergraduate work in order that the visual arts be given a sense of validity and a place of dignity within the University.
Two issues were of concern to a number of the exhibition's viewers. The first concerned the fact that many of the works were for sale. To some extent, this obscured the purpose of the exhibition, resulting in confusion on the part of some as to whether our motives weren't entirely economic. This clearly was not the case. Selling, for many, is an integral aspect of exhibiting; in the case of this particular exhibition, it was partially necessitated by the cost incurred by participation. Were exhibitions more frequent, the obtrusiveness of this economic aspect would diminish.
The choice of participants was also troubling to some. Clearly, not everyone involved in the visuals arts could be included--there simply was not the space. Thus, the selection was highly arbitrary, and in no way reflected a judgment on the work of those not included. This issue, too, would cease to be a problem if exhibitions were a more regular occurrence, as more people would have the opportunity of participating.
Thus, last Saturday marked the end of another attempt to make the visual arts into something of significance at Harvard. Those of us who were fortunate enough to participate can only hope that others will soon have the same opportunity. There are far more visual artists--painters and sculptors, photographers and filmmakers among others--within the University than could be encompassed in our exhibition. Their work, too, should be encouraged and shown.
John Beardsley '74 is a Fine Arts concentrator.