Homecoming: VAC Celebrates 25 Years

Carolina Adams ‘19

Art Correspondent

Homecoming displayed in Davidson’s Van Every/Smith Galleries. Photo by Olivia Forrester ‘22.

Asking directions to the Davidson College Art Galleries over twenty-five years ago would have sent you to Chambers, where the College’s “exhibition space” consisted of a dark, cramped hallway located in the basement of the building. My own art history professors love to recount stories of the old days, when the entire art department consisted of two tiny, inadequate rooms located in the antiquated music building. Much has changed over the years, but echoes of the past reverberate in present-day celebrations and landmarks for the college’s art program. In fact, this academic year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center.

In honor of this significant milestone, Homecoming: Art by Alumni showcases the work of eight alumni artists who graduated between 1993 and 2018. Homecoming is the first curated group exhibition of its kind since the Visual Arts Center opened its doors in 1993, and it does not disappoint. 

For Lia Newman, the director of the Van Every/Smith Galleries, the idea for the exhibition came from a desire to illustrate the impact the Visual Arts Center has had on both the college and the students that the building has had the privilege to intersect with during the past twenty-five years. Also, it was essential to Newman that the chosen works reflect the same caliber of art that is typically on view in the galleries.

The works in Homecoming encompass a variety of media, from sculptural installations and photography to wallpaper and excerpts from a graphic novel. What appeared to me to be traditional artistic conversations within this variety of media, are in reality elevated by disciplined processes inherent in the works and a connection to the human body.

I admit that at first glance this motif may not be apparent to the common visitor. After all, few of the artworks on view actually depict a human figure. However, as Homecoming unfolds, it is evident that each artist alludes to the human body in their own unique way, and that this common motif transforms into a powerful way of understanding various facets of identity.

For example, the exhibition opens with Russ White’s work titled Police Lines, a jarring wallpaper patterned with angry orange eyeballs. White, who graduated in 2004, pulls for this work from Neighborhood Watch signs he saw in his own Minneapolis neighborhood and satirizes the complicated theme of surveillance and policed bodies, as well as the somber national mood when it comes to our relationship with law enforcement. 

Lending a touch of levity to the theme of surveillance that appears again in the interactive works of Chris Rackley ‘00, Rackley’s two pieces on view revel in the weird and unexpected qualities created when art meets science-fiction. Rackley began as a figure painter during his studio practice at Davidson, but was drawn to incorporating his interest in physics and love of tinkering with found objects into his art. Rackley’s Walk in Crater incorporates live video feeds that encourage viewers to observe themselves playing in uninhabited, dystopian “space-scapes.”

Other pieces in the show revisit themes of surveillance, discarded and found objects, and the accessibility of social spaces. The artists’ hands are visible in varying degrees throughout the exhibition, but each work successfully conveys the notion that the human body is central to how we understand facets of identity such as gender, disability, and class. Despite the sometimes-vague references to the human body, Homecoming comes together as an eclectic yet polished exhibition of artworks by Davidson alumni.

All of this to say, I cannot help but reflect on the timeliness of this triumphant homecoming. Twenty-five years of the Belk Visual Arts Center and its celebratory exhibition of alumni artists is an important milestone for the college. However, current students will have the chance to leave their own mark on the arts program at Davidson with the annual student showcases that will close out the 2018-19 exhibition season. 

At present, the Smith Gallery directly across the hall from Homecoming is host to senior studio art majors’ exhibitions through April 19. These solo exhibitions reflect hundreds of hours spent in the studio, a rite of passage for our current studio art majors and Homecoming participants alike. The Van Every/Smith Art Galleries, under the auspices of the Department of Art and Art History, have been a vital aspect of the cultural landscape of Davidson since their inception a quarter of a century ago. The galleries provide a space for critical engagement with art and pedagogy, bringing together historical scholarship and contemporary artistic practices. Student artists are a part of the history of this building, and I am sure that our Visual Arts Center will cultivate generations of artists and art historians to come.

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